What is the employer’s golden rule in the prevention of workplace injuries?

Last updated on December 12, 2023

In cases of negligence where personal injury was suffered by an employee as a result of the negligent act of the employer, Singapore Courts have developed one distinct duty of care – known as the ‘golden rule’.

The employer’s ‘golden rule’, formulated by the Singapore Court of Appeal in the case of Chandran a/l Subbiah v Dockers Marine Pte Ltd, stipulates that employers ought to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees. This is a standard based on the reasonable man’s test and is a non-delegable duty. A non-delegable duty in law does not mean that the duty cannot to delegated to another person. Instead, it means that if the employer has entrusted such a non-delegable duty to the agent, and the employee suffers damage as a result of the negligence of the agent, the employer is nevertheless liable for the breach.

The scope of this duty of care is to provide a safe system of work, described as follows:

  1. “Courts have generally been reluctant to hold an employee to be at fault if his actions were taken in the heat of the moment following an emergency created by the employer’s carelessness.
  2. Courts would also be slow to scrutinise to the minute detail the conduct of a conscientious employee as the primary responsibility for ensuring safety rests with the employer.
  3. Additionally, the fact that the plaintiff had to take a risk does not amount to contributory negligence on his part if the risk was created by the negligence of the defendant and was one which a reasonably prudent man in the plaintiff’s position would take. Broadly, it would seem that employees have more often than not been judged by less exacting standards than employers….
  4. Finally, it is also clear that mere errors of judgment do not ordinarily count against a plaintiff, for a person’s conduct in the face of sudden emergency cannot be judged from the standpoint of what would have been reasonable in the light of hindsight. To this end, courts often draw a distinction between mere heedlessness or errors of judgment on the one hand, and culpable neglect on the other.”

Essentially, the safe system of work should entail the employer’s provision of adequate equipment, adequately skilled workers, a safe system of work and a safe place of work. The safe system of work expected by the law should reduce as far as possible the effects of an employee’s own carelessness.

Accordingly, under section 12 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act, it is duty of employers to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and health of employees. This includes ensuring that employees are not exposed to hazards, ensuring employees have adequate training/supervision, etc.

Aggrieved employees may wish to refer to our other articles on suing for negligence and claiming for personal injury.

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