Repetitive manual handling claim

Mr Jeffs was an order picker at Coca-Cola, moving cases of drinks from shelves to a pallet. Four cases were picked per minute and there was a target of 1500 to 2000 per shift. They weighed up to 15kg. Four days out of five were spent on this task. There were no previous injuries or complaints. Full training and risk assessment had taken place.

Mr Jeffs did not follow the training for correct lifting (“he was impervious to advice”) and the Judge found that a failure to train or instruct him could not be held to be causative of the injury. Nor did he declare an ongoing back injury, so he had to be treated as a fit man by his employer and the court. But the Judge found the simple volume, speed and weight of lifting had created a foreseeability of back injury.

To have just one day off per week was not proper rotation, which involves sharing heavy tasks out from day to day. The fact that no one else had been injured was just good fortune. The failure to rotate properly was negligent and causative of the injury. But the claimant was 50 per cent to blame for not declaring a previous injury and cutting corners in his method of work.

Note: the Judge found liability on negligence alone rather than the Manual Handling Regs. The defendant withdrew an application to the Court of Appeal late in the day.

Jeffs -v- Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, 21 May 2004, Leeds CC

Exposure to endotoxins

i) Mr Callaghan tested aeroplane components in a machine shop. He developed flu like symptoms, which he reported to Occupational Health in May 2000. The defendant, BAE, had an expert report on mineral oil mist given off by the machines, which concluded they were within safe exposure limits.

By October 2002, Mr Callaghan’s symptoms were worse and he took a straw poll of colleagues where 30 out of 250 reported similar symptoms. He passed this on. BAE reinstructed their experts in February 2003, who again tested for mineral oil mist and found exposure levels safe. But they did not test for endotoxins in the environment or mineral oil mist – and only did so in June 2003.

There is no maximum exposure limit for endotoxins but a recommended figure from the Health and safety Laboratory of 100 EU/m3. Measurements taken in June 2003 suggested exposure in excess of that when roof vents and doors were closed.

The Judge found that BAE had breached Reg 7.1 (qualified by Reg 7.7 COSHH Regs 2002) in failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to adequately control exposure to the endotoxins through failing to measure and monitor the levels of exposure from December 2002.

There was joint engineering evidence to guide the Judge.

Damages were just £1000 for nasal irritation of the mucus membrane.

Callaghan -v- BAE Systems

ii) A reminder of The Confined Space Regulations 1997 for those working in places such as trenches, vats, pits etc (but not mines or ships) but which can also be applied to unventilated rooms for those at risk of serious injury e.g drowning, asphyxiation extending to those exposed to welding fumes or fumes given off by solvents.

Trip case in Court of Appeal

Ms Searson tripped on the raised threshold of a hotel doorway, about three centimetres high, as she left. Both the court at first instance and the Court of Appeal held that she should not reasonably be expected to look out for such a hazard on exiting premises – as opposed to arriving at a premises where a step in a doorway might be expected.

A lack of previous reported trips was irrelevant. There was a breach of the Occupiers’ Liability Act: the premises were unsafe and there was no warning or notice and such a hazard was not normal or to be expected.

Lydia Mary Searson -v- Brioland Ltd, CA Civ Div, 24/1/2005