Employers must ensure manual handling training to prevent back injuries at work

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The most common cause of a back injury at work is through the incorrect lifting or moving of items in the workplace. Whether that be the occasional box of paper to refill a printer, repetitive lifting on a factory assembly line, or heavy items in a warehouse or construction site, all employers have the same responsibility to provide a safe working environment where the risks of injury are minimised.

In order to minimise the risk of a back injury, employers are duty bound to ensure that all staff members have been shown how to lift and move items safely. This is commonly known as ‘Manual Handling Training’, and not only does it show how to lift safely, it also gives employees the skills to identify items that are too heavy to lift alone, and what tools (such as hoists and trolleys) should be used for items that are ‘overweight’ and too heavy to carry unaided.

The duties faced by employers are set out by the Health & Safety Executive in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. This requires an employer to implement policies and procedures to ‘prevent or reduce the risk of injury’ faced by workers required to perform manual handling.

Manual handling policies at work

The prescribed manual handling training guidelines provide employers with 3 key elements of guidance to minimise the risk of a back injury in their workforce. When carried out properly, these elements will ensure that workers can lift and move items in the workplace safely.

The 3 key areas for an employer:

  1. Remove the need for manual handling (lifting) of items involving a risk of injury – so far as is reasonably practical. Of course, it is not always possible for an employer to remove all manual lifting of items, but where possible an employer should provide mechanical aids (tools and equipment) to do the lifting of items. An employer should also investigate the possibilities of reviewing the working practices to alter the way in which an employee works to ensure that any weight/items lifted are split into easily manageable loads.
  2. Where it is not possible for a manual handling task to be removed from the worker, it is essential that an employer has adequately risk assessed the role. This must include the task being performed, the loads or items that require moving or lifting, their weight and size, the workplace itself, with regards to adequate room to lift and move items safely – such as twisting or turning and the individual capabilities of the worker.
  3. Employers must have done all they can to reduce the risk of injury through lifting or manual handling of items. There is no set maximum weight that one person should lift but it is essential that employers utilise a set policy to ensure safe working to minimise the risks faced by workers. Commonly, employers state that no single item in excess of 25kg should be lifted manually by one person. Employers must also ensure that all packages are marked clearly with the weight of the contents held within the same.

Manual handling training

To ensure that workers are able to work safely, employers should provide manual handling training. This may be delivered by way of an educational video or through a booklet. This training should provide a demonstration as to how to lift safely, by bending one’s legs to pick up/drop off an item, rather than bending the back, and what to do if an injury is sustained.

However, providing manual handling training does not in and of itself absolve an employer from responsibility for the wellbeing of employees who are being tasked with lifting and moving of items in the workplace. Not only should an employer provide training and guidance to employees regarding lifting, they must also ensure that the working practices employed in the workplace and the space provided to staff to perform lifting enables workers to do so in accordance with any training or guidance provided.

At Direct2Compensation, we have successfully assisted a number of people who have suffered a back injury at work, even though their employer had provided manual handling training. However, in these cases the working practices or layout of the workplace meant that it was impossible to lift items without putting undue pressure on the muscles and mechanics of the back.

What should an employer do if a back injury is reported?

If a back injury is sustained at work, it should be reported to the management team or supervisor responsible for the worker involved. Best practice would indicate that an employer ought to advise the injured worker to seek medical attention from a qualified doctor to have the injury assessed and a diagnosis obtained. If the injury is sufficiently severe, the worker will require a period of rest with no heavy lifting. In such circumstances it is likely that a doctor will medically sign the worker off for a defined period.

In the case of a minor injury, such as discomfort, it is wise for the worker to temporarily avoid lifting of items. Best practice would see an employer temporarily move the worker to light duties where possible and for the worker to then be provided with refresher training for further lifting when recovered to ensure that the injury is not repeated.

Anyone who suffers a back injury at work should ensure that the injury has been recorded within the employer’s accident book. If there has been no provision of manual handling training, this should be noted in the accident book entry and if the working practices employed within the workplace or the working area provided makes it impossible to lift items safely that too should be noted.

If your employer won’t record the incident in an accident book, or won’t let you see it, you should get legal advice.

How compensation can help you to recover

If you have suffered a back injury as a result of an incident at work or because of a repetitive strain of repeated lifting of items you may well have grounds to pursue a claim for compensation against the employer.

At Direct2Compensation we know your rights and are experts in accident at work compensation. Whether the injury has lead to you being unable to work and lose income, or simply causing ongoing discomfort, there are many benefits to successfully pursuing a claim for compensation.

Not only will a successful claim win compensation for the injury sustained, the claimant will also be able to recover any lost income or costs incurred because of the injury.

Alongside this, it is also possible to access great rehabilitation therapies as a result of the claims process. In the case of back injuries at work, most of them are a musculoskeletal issue and recovery from such problems can be achieved more quickly when physiotherapy, osteopathy or massage therapies are provided.

To find out more about how we can help you with a back injury claim against your employer, please call us on 01225 430285 or visit our ‘start a claim’ page to send us your contact details. A quick chat on the phone with us will enable us to properly assess your claim and offer you the advice and support you need. We work with leading accident at work solicitors, many of whom have a genuine speciality in claims arising from manual handling related injuries.

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