Boyle v Marathon Petroleum (Ireland) Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeO'Flaherty J.
Judgment Date12 January 1999
Neutral Citation[1999] IESC 14
Docket Number385/95,[S.C. No. 385 of 1995]
Date12 January 1999

[1999] IESC 14

THE SUPREME COURT

O'Flaherty J.

Denham J.

Murphy J.

385/95
BOYLE v. MARATHON PETROLEUM IRE. LTD.
AN CH ÚIRT UACHTARACH

BETWEEN:

TIMOTHY BOYLE
Plaintiff/Appellant
.V.
MARATHON PETROLEUM IRELAND LIMITED
Defendants/Repondents

Citations:

SAFETY HEALTH & WELFARE (OFFSHORE INSTALLATIONS) ACT 1987 S10(5)

WHITE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENTS V1 642

EDWARDS V NATIONAL COAL BOARD 1949 1 AER 743

MARSHALL V GOTHAM 1954 1 AER 937

JAYNE V NATIONAL COAL BOARD 1963 2 AER 220

DALY V AVONMORE CREAMERIES 1984 IR 131

LARDNER V BRITISH STEEL PLC 1993 4 AER 102

Synopsis

Tort

Tort; employment; breach of statutory duty; accident at work; appellant injured while working in very cramped conditions on an intermediate floor on an offshore platform; whether installation manager was in breach of statutory duty to ensure that workplace was safe; whether conclusion of the trial judge that the intermediate floor was as safe as reasonably practicable was supported by the evidence; s. 10(5), The Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) Act, 1987

Held: appeal dismissed

Boyle v. Marathon Petroleum Ltd. - Supreme Court: O'Flaherty J., Denham J., Murphy J. - 12/01/1999 - [1999] 2 IR 460

While the onus of proof rested on the respondents to show that what they did in building a mid-floor on the offshore gas platform to allow valves and gauges to be reached without using a ladder after complaints by operatives that they considered the system of work to be too dangerous, the trial judge was correct in reaching the conclusion that what the respondents did was reasonably practicable. This duty was more extensive than the common law duty which devolved on employers to exercise reasonable care in various respects as regards their employees. It was an obligation to take all practicable steps. That involved more than that they should respond that they, as employers, did all that was reasonably to be expected of them in a particular situation. An employer might sometimes be able to say that what he did by way of exercising reasonable care was done in the "agony of the moment", for example, but that might not be enough to discharge his duty under the section in question. As far as the facts of this case were concerned a balance had to be struck. The Supreme Court so held in dismissing the appeal.

1

Judgment delivered on the 12th day of January, 1999, by O'Flaherty J. [NEM DISS]

2

Since 1977 Marathon Petroleum Ireland Limited, the respondents, have produced gas at sea off Kinsale, County Cork. Mr. Timothy Boyle, the appellant, had worked with them from the beginning of their operations on their off-shore platforms.

3

He met with an accident while working on one of these platforms, Platform Alpha, on 24th January, 1990. He banged his head against a girder while finishing certain cleaning work that he was doing in very cramped conditions on the lower floor of the platform in question.

4

The consequences were serious for Mr. Boyle: he was not able to get back to work; he was 57 years of age at the time of the accident and he had worked all his life since leaving school at a young age.

5

To explain further how the accident occurred, I reproduce this account from the reserved judgment of the learned High Court judge (McCracken J.) of 1st November, 1995:-

"When the platform was originally constructed, it consisted of two floors with a space of 22 feet between them. The bottom floor was constructed as the base from which to service the machinery at the top of each well head. This machinery consisted of seven fairly large structures called target blocks and which were colloquially known as Christmas trees, which housed the valve system controlling the wells, and possibly other machinery. [More accurately, the cube-shaped target blocks were at the lower level and the "Christmas Trees", an extension from the target blocks, were at the next, higher level.] Each block contained several valves which were hand operated and also dials showing the pressure, some of which could be read centrally from the control room, but some of which had to be read on the blocks. These had to be inspected several times each day.

Some of the valves were located about 5 feet above the bottom floor and others about 8 feet above it. When the platform first came into operation, it was necessary to use a ladder to reach the top valves, and the ladder had to be shifted for each block. The bottom floor was quite congested as it also contained piping in connection with fire fighting equipment and electrical wiring, and it was difficult to use the ladder. There was a further problem in that the top of each block, which was 12 or 13 feet from the bottom floor, had to be removed periodically for maintenance. This required scaffolding to be erected around the block, which again was very difficult because of the obstacles on the bottom floor.

In 1978, shortly after the platform came into operation, the operatives complained to management that they considered this system to be dangerous. It was decided that the best solution was to build a mid-floor so that all the valves and gauges could be reached from a standing position, and ladders would not have to be used. This floor was put in in 1979. Because of the position of the lowest valves, the height of the area between the mid-floor and the bottom floor is only 4 feet 10 inches at the most. The middle floor is supported by girders or rolled steel joists every 2 feet, which protrude downwards so that the headroom under them is only 4 feet 3 inches.

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was tidying up after having done the cleaning of the bottom floor. He was wearing a helmet of standard design with a visor. Because of the height restriction, to walk in the area he had to stoop and he claimed that, because of the visor, it was very difficult to see where he was going. He struck his head on one of the girders and jerked his neck backwards, and also twisted his knee when he fell, although the knee cleared up quickly. He continued to suffer considerable pain in his...

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    ...... HICKEY PROPERTIES LIMITED AND BT COMMUNICATIONS (IRELAND) LIMITED DEFENDANTS Tort – Damages & ... . 78 The duty was considered in Boyle v. Marathon Petroleum (Ireland) Limited [1999] IESC 14 , O'Flaherty J. ......
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