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Woolworths worker wins more than $230k in compensation

A Brisbane supermarket worker who says he felt forced to skimp on safety to lift 2,100 heavy cartons a day has been awarded compensation for an ongoing injury in a landmark Court of Appeal case in Brisbane.

Supermarket giant Woolworths has been ordered to pay its former picker Berhane Ghebreigziabiher Berhane $231,211.45, after an appeal judge found Woolworths' demands on its Queensland distribution centre workers breached safety laws and aggravated the onset of a shoulder injury.

Mr Berhane's legal team Shine Lawyers said the successful appeal followed a 2013 court battle where their client failed to prove his injury was the supermarket giant's fault.

Shine Lawyers said the case had been closely watched in the supermarket industry and would set a precedent for workers who were injured on the job.

Mr Berhane, who is a migrant from Africa, was one of more than 90 workers at Woolworths' regional distribution centre at Larapinta, south of Brisbane, in 2010 who were sent home if they did not meet performance targets, which could involve lifting up to 2,160 cartons a day.

The 54-year-old worked in a chiller room where the temperature dropped to below zero and he was given one 10-minute and one 30-minute break during an eight-hour shift.

Court of Appeal Justice Phillip Morrison said boxes of fruit and vegetables that workers had to lift weighed between 13 and 16 kilograms.

Less than a year after starting at the Larapinta distribution centre, Mr Berhane was diagnosed with subacromial bursitis and impingement of the left shoulder, which his doctor found was caused by constant heavy lifting.

But the court was told Mr Berhane already had a shoulder condition when he started the job and would not have been injured were it not for that condition.

He now suffers from ongoing pain.

The court heard Woolworths contracted an independent company to determine how many boxes could be lifted in a day.

During the day a manager would have to decide if there was enough work for all the employees and those who were lifting the least cartons would be sent home first.

Justice Morrison said Woolworths trained workers in how to lift boxes safely but it was not enforced on shift.

"The training and induction program was comprehensive, and an adequate response to the risk of musculoskeletal injury, but only in theory," he said. "The failure to properly implement the system was a breach of duty."

When questioned by the ABC about its current safety procedures, a spokeswoman for Woolworths said it was still reviewing the court's decision.

Source: abc.net.au

Publication date: 8/10/2017


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