Back injury claims – what employers should do to avoid them
March 5, 2014
By Beth King, our head of personal injury
We run successful back injury claims for work accident compensation all the time and most of them happen because employers don’t apply common sense when assessing the likely risks of doing certain jobs or simply don't comply with safety regulations.
Back strains, slipped discs and broken fingers and toes are common workplace injuries but they can be avoided if employers comply with their health and safety duties. If they don't, they will find themselves facing back injury claims as well as having to find cover for the employee who is unable to work.
Whenever an employee has to lift or move something manually, his employer has a duty to make sure the task can be done safely. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 contain very specific instructions on what an employer has to do.
Firstly, the employer has to look for practical ways to avoid the need for the task to be done manually at all. So, if there is a machine which can do the job, the employer has to use a machine if that is "reasonably practicable". A very expensive machine to do a mundane job which is unlikely to cause an injury would probably not be considered reasonably practicable but it would probably be required if the machinery is fairly cheap and easy to install and the risk of injury is high.
Secondly, and only if the job can only really be done manually, the employer must risk assess the whole job. This means they have to consider what risks are posed by each of the tasks which make up the job, how likely each task is to cause an injury, and what should be done to reduce the risk of injury to the "lowest level reasonably practicable". They should take into account the surroundings in which the job will be done as well as the physical capabilities of the person doing it.
Some employers know they have to make these risk assessments but they type them up and put them away in a file in case the Health and Safety Executive turn up for an inspection and expect to see them. That isn’t the point and it isn't going to help them avoid liability if someone has an accident.
Risk assessments are only useful if employers pass on what they have learned to the people actually doing the work and those supervising them. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 specifically require employers to take steps to tell employees the weight of the load and the heaviest side of the load if it isn't evenly spread. But it makes sense that they should also explain why they need to know that. It is surprising how many employees say that they have never seen the risk assessment prepared about their job.
In considering whether a task is too much for one person to handle, employers also have to look at the individual concerned and whether they are actually capable of doing the job without injury. Asking an 8 stone girl in high heels to put a heavy box on the top shelf of a store room is asking for trouble but giving it to a body builder who has had careful training on how to lift safely probably wouldn't cause him an injury. But employers should also bear in mind that sometimes the body builder will be on holiday and the girl might end up doing the job if they don't give proper instructions to all relevant staff.
In the end, although it sounds hard on employers, the Regulations only ask them to use common sense to assess how a job can be done safely and who should do it.
Sometimes, it may mean they have to have more people doing the job. If that means the job costs more to do, they might have to consider charging more. For example, delivering heavy and bulky items such as American style fridge freezers has led to a significant number of delivery men suffering back injuries. This is usually because they are sent out on their own or with just one other person when the task actually needs at least 3. Shop owners should either charge more for the delivery and send 3 men, or they might have to choose to stop selling these items. In the end, even if they don't pay sick pay, it costs employers money to have an injured worker covered by another employee or to employ someone new. And losing a valued employee to an avoidable accident isn't good business.
The information contained in this article is intended for general guidance only. It provides useful information but it is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice as the articles do not take into account specific circumstances. So do please Contact US for legal advice on the issues raised.