A recent decision has underlined that it is important for employers to operate risk minimisation strategies when mechanical handling equipment is being used: the mere assessment of potential risks is not enough. If an employee is injured, the burden is on the employer to prove that it has taken appropriate steps to reduce the risk to the lowest practicable level when facing a manual handling injury claim.

The case concerned a hospital worker, Donna Egan, who sustained a back injury when the wheels of a hoist she was using to transport a disabled patient failed to work. She claimed that the defective operation of the hoist was responsible for her injury. Her employer, Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, claimed that her injury was due to her own negligence.

In the lower court, it was agreed that no risk assessment had been carried out in this case. However, the judge accepted the employer’s argument that the injury was due to Ms Egan’s negligence and that the failure to carry out a risk assessment was not a causative factor in the injury. Her claim was dismissed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal took a different view. The Court accepted the argument that the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 impose a duty on an employer to take all appropriate steps, once it has been shown that a mechanical handling operation carries some risk of injury, to reduce that risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level and that this duty is in addition to any other duty. Accordingly, the employer had been in breach of its duty under the Regulations and was primarily responsible for Ms Egan&amprsquos injury. However, on the question of contributory negligence, the Court was of the view that if either the employer or the employee had taken proper care, the accident would probably have been avoided and thus awarded 50 per cent compensation to Ms Egan.

Advice on manual handling can be found on the website of the Health and Safety Executive at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/manlinde.htm.

If you suffer an injury at work as a result of carrying out a mechanical handling operation or from an accident which was not your fault, contact us for advice on 0800 018 5401.