The somewhat anodyne health and safety term, ‘manual handling’, refers to the movement of any item by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, or pulling; actions that many workers do all day, every day. While not all new employees see manual handling training as the most important aspect of their induction process (it really should be), for employers it is taken incredibly seriously. Why? Because they know that even the slightest error when handling heavy loads can not only harm an employee’s health, but also the operation, finances and reputation of the company if a compensation claim is found against them.
A life changed forever
In August 2013, part-time worker and student Corisande Collins suffered life-changing injuries while working for the retail store ‘Wilko’, in Leicester. Ms Collins was moving a heavily loaded metal cage full of paint tins, when it fell onto her. She suffered extensive spinal damage and paralysis. Following medical treatment and rehabilitation over a period of 18-months, she was able to return to her university studies on a part-time basis, however she remains unable to use her legs and requires a wheelchair.
This was truly a case of an accident that should have been foreseen and avoided. Wilko Retail Ltd pleaded guilty to four offences relating to the health and safety of its workers; this resulted in a fine of £2.2m. Wilko admitted that:
- The floor of the lift that was used to carry the cage, and that of the shop floor where not of equal heights – therefore not level
- The cage was unsafely loaded
- Employees were not provided with training on the safe use of roll cages, or use of lifts of the type used by Ms Collins
- A proper risk assessment had not been carried out (one had been done which covered the use of roll cages in general but did not include the added risk of unequal floor heights)
- No risk assessment had been completed on the manual handling of roll cages, nor on the safe stacking and even weight distribution needed in such cages
It was found during the investigation that there were nearly 90 litres of paint on the top and middle-tiers of the cage, and only 55 litres on the lower – meaning it was very top-heavy, and therefore an accident waiting to happen.
This case should have been a wake-up call to all employers to undertake and act on risk assessments for all eventualities. Even a simple omission can lead to a multi-million pound fine.
What is the law surrounding manual handling?
All employers are legally required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to conduct thorough health and safety risk assessments across their operations, and act on them accordingly, to eliminate or reduce risks. To make it even more clear, there is a specific requirement in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) to conduct a risk assessment for any manual handling tasks. It is important that the process of risk assessments is continuous and that old ones do not ‘expire’.
Under MHOR, employers must ensure that any manual handling task deemed hazardous should either be avoided or made safe.
What can be done to reduce the risk of manual handling?
There are many, often very simple ways in which manual handling can be made much safer, if handling is unavoidable. It might be possible to make the load lighter, smaller or easier to lift; this can often be achieved by splitting up the item into a number of small loads. If the item being moved cannot be reduced in size or weight, load carrying equipment can be introduced to reduce the physical stress on the employee (e.g. a trolley or hoist). While the use of a mechanical device might reduce the risk, it is very important that employees are then trained on the safe use of the device, or else the employer risks just transferring one risk to another.
Safe manual handling is critical to the welfare of employees, and the sustainability of a business’s operations. Any short-cuts in this area could, down the line, to be truly regrettable, as evidenced by the huge fine paid by Wilko. There are many ways to improve safety around manual handling, but the keys elements are a) thorough ongoing risk assessment and management, b) training for all employees, ensuring that the appropriate training is given for their respective role and c) a culture that encourages safety, including reporting and acting on anything that an employee is concerned about, that could pose a risk to others.
If you have been injured at work while handling a heavy item, you may be able to receive damages for the impact to your health, loss of earnings, or costs you have incurred, if it can be shown that your employer did not take reasonable measures to protect your safety.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have been seriously injured at work while carrying out manual handling tasks, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.