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When you think of a work-related injury, what do you think of? Maybe a bricklayer hurting their back or an office worker suffering a repetitive strain injury?

Has it ever crossed your mind that tripping over a log while walking the dog or hurting your hip dislodging chips from a vending machine could constitute a work-related injury?

We’ve put together a list of 10 strange work injuries that highlight the need to always keep safety front of mind.

Work-related injuries occur either at your workplace, or as a direct result of doing your job (such as travelling to or from work, while on break or attending work related events).

The most common mechanisms are body stressing injuries cause by handling, lifting or carrying objects (37% of all injuries), followed by falls, trips or slips (23%), being hit by moving objects (16%) and mental stress (8%).

Most Australian workers are protected by workers compensation insurance, which provides compensation to workers who are injured or become sick due to work.

Queensland’s ‘no fault’ statutory workers compensation scheme allows workers to claim regardless of fault—as long as the injury occurred in the course of employment, or if employment was a significant contributing factor.

Where an employer has contributed to an injury through negligence (such as not fixing a reported or known hazard), employees may also be able to make a ‘common law claim’ for damages.

It’s Not Cricket

An injury sustained by a FIFO worker playing cricket after drinking in the mess hall was found to be a valid workers compensation claim in the South Australian Employment Tribunal.

The Oz Minerals worker had decided to stay awake to reset his body clock ahead of changeover from night to day shift. While his employer’s insurer dismissed his compensation claim, the Tribunal found the claim was valid as the worker was appropriately managing his sleep cycle.

Only in America

It wasn’t the smartest move: smoking marijuana before entering a bear enclosure. Brock Hopkins, a worker at Great Bear Adventures in Montana, did exactly that, suffering serious injuries when the bear he was feeding mauled him.

Despite the drug use and his employer’s claim that Hopkins was not a ‘worker’, Montana’s Supreme Court awarded him compensation, on the basis that grizzly bears are “equal-opportunity maulers” and would have attacked him irrespective of his intoxication.

Crocodile attack

They say you should never work with children or animals. It’s something that must have crossed Renee Robertson’s mind after she was bitten by a crocodile in her job as a wildlife ranger at Billabong Sanctuary in Queensland.

She required several surgeries to repair a partly detached arm, but eventually made a full recovery. Her slow and measured return to work with a ‘return to work’ plan earned her an injured worker achievement award by WorkSafe QLD.

Wee little problem

This disturbing event occurred when a Queensland resort hospitality worker awoke to find his colleague—who he shared a room with as part of his employment—urinating into his mouth.  

Despite the “highly unusual injuries in highly unusual circumstances”, a workers compensation claim was rejected in Rockhampton’s Supreme Court on the basis that the incident could not have been “foreseen” and did not occur due to any connection with his employment.

Walking a dog

Hydro Tasmania worker Buddy Detlef Nazar was on call when slipped on a log and broke his thigh while walking his dog. His claim through Tasmania’s Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Tribunal was initially approved but was overturned in the Supreme Court. 

Mr Nazar then appealed to the full bench of the Supreme Court, who upheld the original claim, finding the injury did occur during the “course of his employment” as he was required to be within mobile phone coverage while on call–something he had made sure to do on his walk.

Snack attack

A bag of chips stuck in a vending machine was the unlikely trigger for a workers compensation case in Illinois. 21-year-old electronics store worker Clinton Dwyer fractured his hip after coming to the aid of a co-worker and trying to ‘bump’ a vending machine to dislodge her stuck packet of Fritos.

The employer dismissed a compensation claim on the basis the injury didn’t occur during the course of an employment, but an arbitration hearing disagreed and found Dwyer eligible for compensation.

Blinded by the light

Not all injuries sustained during activities tangentially related to work are eligible for compensation. That was the High Court’s finding after a public servant was injured when a light fitting fell on her face while she was having sex on a work trip her employer had booked.

A successful compensation claim was revoked before the employee won a Federal Court appeal. However, the Government’s insurer appealed to the High Court, which found her employer was not liable as the incident occurred after hours and not “in the course of her employment”

Video Camera Glued to Face

Research by WHS software company Evotix uncovered some peculiar workplace injuries, including the UK electronics store worker who accidentally superglued a video camera to his face.

The incident happened after the employee glued a damaged video camera back together. He held it to his eye, whereupon it became stuck. Cue a visit to the Emergency Room whereupon he was asked to stop filming, sheepishly having to admit he wasn’t—he just couldn’t remove the camera.

Smashing a bowling ball

Some high jinks at work had serious repercussions for Charles Habib, a labourer at a paving company in Pennsylvania. Habib was trying to break a bowling ball with a sledgehammer when a piece broke off and hit him in the face, causing the loss of an eye.

He was originally awarded compensation, but his employer appealed on the basis he had defied a ‘positive work order’ (a foreman had asked him to “knock it off” and “stop”). The State Court agreed, overturning Habib’s clan.

Falling Down the Stairs

Since the pandemic, WFH has become part of working life for many employees, but it’s only in recent years that employment law has started to catch up. 

In a 2011 landmark case, the Federal Administrative Appeal tribunal ruled that two shoulder injuries sustained by a Telstra employee who twice fell down the stairs—including once while walking to get cough medicine—constituted work injuries.

Read here to learn more about how the shift to WFH is impacting workers compensation.

Patrick MacDonald
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