Employers liability - manual handling
22 December 2014
The claimant alleged that she injured her back whilst working in the marketing department at ICICI Bank, which had caused an onset of chronic pain and chronic fatigue. The defendant bank accepted the claimant received no training but argued that her job was clerical work and the risk of injury was so small that no practical precautions were necessary.The claimant acted in person throughout a 6 day trial. The claimant’s case was dismissed.
The claimant worked in the marketing department at the bank’s headquarters. The claimant maintained that as part of her job she was required to undertake heavy lifting such as moving boxes of marketing material from the reception to her desk and lifting heavy display banners. The claimant argued that this had caused her to develop chronic fatigue and chronic pain which prevented her from working and claimed around £1.5 million in damages.
There was a factual dispute between the claimant and the defendant as to how heavy the items she was required to carry were. The court concluded that the items she was moving could not be described as heavy and reiterated that under the regulations an employer has a qualified obligation to its employees, it is not simply to ensure all manual handling is avoided, but to avoid handling where there is a risk of being injured.
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The court also noted that there was no evidence of a contemporaneous complaint made by the claimant about heavy lifting. She had raised multiple issues and made multiple complaints concerning her job and conditions throughout her employment. Had heavy lifting been an issue for her at the time, the court was minded to conclude she would have raised it.
Despite the court concluding there was no breach of duty the court considered causation. The court noted that the claimant had suffered back and neck problems prior to her work at the bank. Whilst the claimant asserted that she was problem free this did not match her medical records and correspondences with employers which suggested an ongoing injury.
The court was not satisfied that even if the claimant had undertaken significant manual handling with the defendant that this work would have caused or materially contributed to her injury. The claimant’s pre-existing vulnerability had led to a spontaneous onset of the pre-existing condition.
This case serves as a reminder to claimants that the duty under Regulation 4(1) Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 is qualified. There must be a risk to claimants of injury. Bringing such claims will now be even more difficult as a consequence of s 69 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. Furthermore, it is worth noting that a claimant’s previous character will be taken into account when judging the veracity of their complaints.
Joseph Carr and Amy Wedgwood, Anthony Gold Solicitors