Teacher swinging on rope swing while on school trip in Vanuatu not acting ‘in the course of’ employment03 February 2020 Topics: Insurance, Workers’ compensation
A Brisbane Catholic Education teacher injured while on a school trip to Vanuatu has had her appeal dismissed by the Industrial Court of Queensland. The Court found that her shoulder injury did not ‘arise out of, or in the course of, her employment’.
Ms Glass was employed as a teacher at Xavier Catholic College when she attended a school trip to Vanuatu as one of the nominated tour leaders and coordinators.
When one of the destinations became unavailable, the teachers on the trip decided to alter the itinerary and travel to the Blue Lagoon.
In what she called a relationship building exercise designed to develop ‘inter-respect between teachers and the students’, Ms Glass participated in the Blue Lagoon’s rope swing (pictured) and, when she let go too early, felt something ‘go’ in her shoulder.
After Ms Glass’ claim had been disallowed by WorkCover Queensland, the Workers’ Compensation Regulation and the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), she appealed to the Industrial Court of Queensland (ICQ).
However, that appeal was also unsuccessful.
At first instance, the QIRC highlighted that the destination change was not approved by the school’s own International Travel and Advisory Panel and the teachers on the trip had not made any meaningful attempt to undertake a risk assessment of the new destination.
This was despite the teachers on the trip being equipped with an ‘International Travel Guidelines and Mandatory Procedures’, which required that the Code of Conduct must be observed at all times by staff engaging in international travel.
The QIRC therefore did not accept Ms Glass’ submission that the decision was a collaborate and professional decision made by five teachers as it was inconsistent with the policies provided.
The ICQ upheld the QIRC’s decision that Ms Glass’ injury did not arise out of, or in the course of her employment.
It noted that, although there could be no criticism of the general proposition that the rope swing activity was part of the educational aspect of the trip (which helped developed student – teacher relationships), it was open to the QIRC to hold that:
[I]n circumstances where [the school] had gone to some lengths to identify and manage risk, and to compel the observation of plans designed to deal with risk, the use of the rope swing was outside the scope of employment.
The ICQ further noted the QIRC’s decision was supported by its factual findings that:
- Ms Glass voluntarily participated in the rope swing activity
- the rope swing activity was recreational in nature and it was not a requirement of Ms Glass’ employment that she participate
- it was physically impossible for Ms Glass to actively supervise students while also participating in the rope swing activity.
Take away message
This decision is another good example of how numerous factors must be considered, and often finely balanced, to determine whether an injured worker’s actions arose out of, or in the course of, their employment.
The circumstances of this case serve as a reminder that the mere fact that a worker’s employment caused them to be in a particular area is not enough; it is necessary for workers to show that the actual activity was condoned or encouraged.
Photo credit: Alex Ellinghausen