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Workplace manual handling accidents

lifting boxThere are countless ways in which we can injure ourselves in what otherwise might appear to be harmless working environments, but the simple fact of the matter is that, potentially, anyone can pull a muscle or tendon in a range of workplace scenarios if we’re not careful in the way in which we lift, carry or put down an array of sometimes seemingly innocuous items.

Be it the moving of files around an office space or transporting a box to another part of the warehouse, accidents involving manual handling can present themselves without any warning. And before you even consider the slip, trip or fall risk of course, which can also lie in wait for the unsuspecting individual.

Statistically-speaking – and as recently as 2013/14 – the Health and Safety Executive officially reported that some 909,000 working days were lost as a direct result of an employee sustaining a manual handling injury of one description or another. And did you know that 30% of all acute injuries recorded in the food and drinks industry are attributed to manual handling and lifting?

Both of which figures are quite the eye-openers, especially when learning that experts readily believe that 75% of injuries caused by manual lifting could be prevented if employees received appropriate training (and naturally, adhered to the predominant elements they’d been taught) on matters concerning the lowering, lifting, pulling, pushing, holding, restraining, carrying, throwing or handling of items.

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What exactly constitutes a workplace manual handling accident?

OK, let us explain. The term ‘manual handling’ refers to the transportation of goods from one area of an employer’s workplace to another, specifically when the means of transportation adopted is one which requires physical exertion from an individual or individuals; rather than by mechanical/vehicular devices.

Regarding the physical mechanics relating to the carriage of said items, this can involve any number of actions from individual(s) members of a workforce and routinely include carrying, lifting, lowering, pushing or pulling. The accident element refers to the point at which an employee injures themselves (physically) during the process of manually transporting the goods/items from hypothetical point A to point B so as to fulfil the obligations of their particular role.

There’s as much likelihood of an employee injuring themselves while carrying a cardboard box containing goods around a factory or warehouse as there is an office worker portering a computer monitor within their more familiar work environment if they’re not following the health and safety training they’ve received previously.

So what would you say are the most common manual handling injuries which affect the UK workforce?

Personal injury claims specialists would tell you that the predominant injuries claimants approach them with (with a view to formulating a case against the negligent employer/culpable party) tend to be back or shoulder-related, not least because these are the joints/areas of the body which suffer the most physical strain and leverage when the torso is recruited to lift and carry items.

But injuries are by no means solely limited to these areas, as a variety of strains, sprains, trapped fingers and lacerations also contribute to a myriad of potential manual handling injuries. One of the main worries for anyone who’s suffered from a manual handling injury is whether or not the effects/legacy of it are long term or not, as some medical prognosis’ can spell on-going physical pain and discomfort for weeks, months and even years after the initial accident took place; more especially when you’re talking about muscles and tendons located in the back and upper limbs which have been seriously compromised by the transit of heavy objects.

Who is deemed most at risk from being involved in a manual handling accident?

As we’ve already alluded to, a manual handling accident can pretty much strike anyone at any time if they’re not careful, yet they are more prevalent amongst those employees whose workplace/remit of their role necessitates a significant percentage of lifting and carrying of objects large and small.

Essentially anyone employed in a warehouse, factory, farm, building site, care home, storage facility or in the occupational capacity of a delivery driver/courier to name but a few are perceived to be at more latent threat from picking up a manual handling injury, chiefly due to their positions calling for constant and repetitive lifting actions. Yet having said that – and as we pointed out earlier – it’s not altogether unheard of for office staff to succumb to a manual handling accident.

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I see. In that case what UK employment sectors are most prone, workforce-wise to suffering manual handling injuries?

Well, according to figures from RIDDOR (for 2013/14), the health and social care industry rates as the highest in terms of numbers of employees having suffered manual handling injuries during that specific period in question; figuratively accounting for some 3,770 incidents.

The next sector which showed significant counts of manual handling injuries amongst its workforce was manufacturing (3,492), whilst transport and storage (3,101), wholesale and retail (2,456) and construction (1,162) were listed further down the casualty list as it were.

Surprisingly, agriculture was recognised as one of the lowest sectors when it came to manual handling injuries, with a total of 109 being recorded in the year under scrutiny. Less surprisingly – and worth highlighting while we’re on the subject – is that in terms of precise occupations, those employed as ‘elementary storage operatives’ observed the highest rate of manual handling injuries, percentage-wise, with a tally of 11%.

How would I avoid being the victim of a workplace manual handling accident, then?

In a nut-shell, by carrying out the job properly and strictly adhering to health and safety codes of practice, protocol and procedure.

Most responsible employers ensure that all staff involved in the transportation of goods, manually, receive short training sessions which cover all the key aspects of lifting, carrying, putting down and the general porterage of items in a safety first manner. And if they don’t, then the minimum requirement is that they alternatively provide individuals in their employ with a leaflet which documents (preferably with diagrams) the main rules operative would need to abide by when engaging in any form of manual handling in a work environment and during work time.

Although much of the principles of lifting and carrying objects is down to common sense, there are other aspects which need to be taught from those experienced in such matters. But by and large employees wouldn’t actually go far wrong if they adhered to the following basic guidelines which any employer worth their salt would instruct you to abide by anyway;

  • ALWAYS perform some simple stretching exercises prior to lifting anything as it’s imperative that muscles are warmed up beforehand. This way the risk of injury is reduced from the outset
  • ENSURE that you’re stood directly in front of the item you’ve been instructed to lift
  • DETERMINE if the item which requires lifting benefits from handles which you could facilitate
  • ASCERTAIN precisely where you need to transport the item to, before starting the task in hand(s)
  • POSITION your feet evenly (typically shoulder-width apart)
  • MAINTAIN a straight back and stand up tall
  • TIGHTEN stomach muscles when about to lift/take the strain of the object
  • ALWAYS bend your knees as you squat to the floor
  • DO NOT move your upper body as you complete this initial move
  • GRIP the object firmly with both hands
  • EVENLY distribute the weight of the object, ensuring you’re not unbalanced
  • KEEP the object close to your body as you begin to straighten your legs and assume a standing position
  • SLOWLY stand up, ensuring that you don’t move quickly (or jerk) whilst doing this
  • ENSURE that you don’t twist your body as you begin to walk with the object about your person, taking small steps if necessary
  • ENSURE that a colleague guides your journey/pathway if you’re unsighted by the size of the object you’re carrying to prevent you from tripping over/colliding with unseen objects
  • ALWAYS bend your legs when placing the object back down at your destination
  • MAINTAIN a straight back as you do this
  • ENSURE that the object is lowered to the floor/table slowly, with each side descending separately so as to avoid trapped fingers

 

But even if the above instructions are followed, accidents still happen, right?

Unfortunately so. Despite countless HSE provisions being in place (and regularly acted upon by both right-minded employers and equally conscientious staff) manual handling accidents can still occur; which inevitably means that someone (or party) is to blame.

If it’s down to absentmindedness on the part of the individual, then they’ll probably have to take the injury on the chin so to speak, however if a third party is culpable (even partly) then there’s a good chance that the injured party could pursue a personal injury claim against the individual/company/organisation whose fault it’s perceived to be.

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But how would I find out if I was entitled to compensation if I’d suffered a manual handling injury at work?

For a start this hinges on the exact circumstances leading up to (and at the time of) the accident, with the key to your chances of successfully pursuing a claim for personal injury determined by whether or not an employer had operated within the legal requirements of existing health and safety guidelines; and therein doing everything within their power/remit to take steps to avoid the risk of an injury being played out.

Basically employers are ultimately responsible for employees health and safety courtesy of the ‘duty of care’ legislation written into employment law. By the same token employees are equally obliged to respond to and act upon these very guidelines and stipulation outlined in the appropriate documentation and signage displayed and readily available/accessible in the employer’s workplace. In real terms – and with regard to manual handling procedure – in the event of equipment being provided by the employer specifically for aiding lifting or carrying and it not being used by the employee, then this would stand as reason for a case of negligence on behalf of the employer being dismissed. Because if means are available by which an employee can safeguard their own health and wellbeing, they are duly expected to facilitate it in whatever form/guise it takes.

Conversely it’s an employer’s liability to provide the necessary training, organise the appropriate workload and provide suitable lifting equipment, and their failure to do this (which results in a manual handling accident) would be considered suitable grounds by which to seek compensation for injuries sustained by an employee. It’s all about risk assessment in the first place, and if an employer has overlooked this (or neglected to comply with legislation governing this) then they might find themselves exposed to personal injury claims.

How Do I Make a Claim for Manual Handling Accident Compensation?

Claims for personal injury are judged by dedicated solicitors and specialists in this field on a claim-by-claim basis and as such there’s no guarantee that individual cases will be taken on. Not before they are dissected to establish if the would-be claimant has a good chance of winning their case based on the underlying fact that their employer/third party was to blame for the manual handling accident which befell them.

Providing they are prepared to represent you, professionally then they will henceforth argue your case in a court of law (if it gets that far, and the accused party fails to settle prior to this juncture); effectively championing you every step of the way.

Personal injury claims specialists know only too well that when a manual handling injury is sustained then it doesn’t just impact on the life of the individual who has suffered it, but can extend to have a detrimental effect on their family too. It is not only the physical pain and discomfort which is taken into account, but possible loss of earnings due to them having to take time off.

But remember, in order to pursue a personal injury claim you need to act fast, as if the ball doesn’t start rolling within 3 years of the accident having occurred then you’ll find you’re out of time to seek damages and be financially reimbursed for your accumulative losses.

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