Manual handling: good risk assessment on face of it should be enforced

The claimant worked in a tool room as a technician since 1997. He sharpened and cleaned the cutting blocks, brought from the machines, at an average rate of 10 blocks a day. The weights of the blocks vary from 30 to 50kg.

On the day of the accident the claimant was manually lifting a large cutting block when he felt pain in his back. There were no eyewitnesses. The claimant’s case was that there were breaches of the Manual Handling (Lifting and Operations) Regulations 1992 (MHOR) in that:

i) There had previously been a hoist for this job. After the move, the hoist was not transferred to the new premises.

ii) The claimant alleged he had requested assistance with lifting the block from a colleague who said he  was too busy at the time.

The defendant’s main case was that a risk assessment had been carried out in the new premises and it was decided that this was a two-man job. The claimant should have requested assistance before lifting the block.

In cross examination he admitted that he had been told prior to the accident that he was only to lift with another person as he could injure himself. He then said that he could not really remember whether he had asked someone to help or not.

For the defendant, the line manager gave evidence for the claimant and agreed that he was aware that the claimant lifted alone sometimes but admitted that he also lifted alone from time to time.

The Judge accepted that the risk assessment was correctly carried out in accordance with the MHOR and that the claimant knew not to lift the blocks on his own and also that his manager knew this and the claimant would be told off for lifting alone.

However, he decided that the employers were aware that the system in place was breaking down, especially as the manager knew the claimant lifted on his own and also did this himself from time to time. This was poor management control.

He decided that the employers could have done more to reduce the level to the lowest reasonably practicable, for example by providing a clear notice to staff that this lifting was not to be undertaken by one employee, or to provide a hoist.

He also stated that the MHOR are designed to protect employees from an act of their own folly or their over zealousness to get the job done.

Quantum was agreed at £ 7,250 prior to the hearing, the medical evidence was 6-12 months acceleration of lower back pain. The claimant has extensive degenerative changes in his back.

Alan Howard Henshall -v- Jewson Internal Supplies, 4 August 2005, Cardiff CC