An employee was dismissed after he allegedly placed his hand into an operating machine to clear a blockage. The employer argued that his actions breached the company’s health and safety requirements.

The Employment Relations Authority ordered that the employee be reinstated on an interim basis pending a hearing. Several factors stood out:

The employee denied putting his hand in the machine.

He had worked there for 18 years without a prior incident.

Clearing a blockage the way alleged had previously been approved.

Documentation was unclear on the correct procedure.

If his version was believed, reinstatement was likely, and

The employee’s financial state made waiting for a substantive hearing (and damages) impractical.

The ERA ordered that the employee be reinstated on the condition that he adheres to any lawful and reasonable instruction given by his employer, especially on how to clear any blockages.

Employers must have clear policies and documentation on safety procedures and proof that these have been brought to the attention of the employee, if they want to be able to rely on them.