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LTL 22/1/2007, Bradford County Court - Charlie Woodhouse
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The operation of moving some heavy benches in a workshop involved breaches by the employer of its duties under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 reg.4 but the employee's accident was caused by his own decision to try to move one of the benches on his own and not by any breach of the Regulations.
The claimant (S) claimed damages against his employer (P) as a result of an accident at work. S was employed as a mechanical engineer. His duties involved pipe fitting, plumbing and associated installation work. After P had moved premises it became necessary to move two large steel benches and some metal racking into the workshop from the container in which they had been moved to the new site. The benches and racking were moved from the container into the workshop by a forklift truck. Once in the workshop they were moved into position by a number of employees including S. S's case was that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon while attempting to move one of the benches on his own. At trial he gave evidence that he had tried to move the first bench on his own because he thought he was going to be trapped between it and the second bench when the forklift was bringing the racking into the workshop. The movement of the benches within the workshop was a manual handling operation to which the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 applied. S argued that the operation of moving the benches manually was avoidable so that there had been a breach of reg.4(1)(a) of the Regulations; alternatively that P had failed to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to reduce the risk of injury as required by reg.4(1)(b).
HELD: (1) The difference between S's account in the witness statement and pleading and his account in the witness box was not a matter of minor variation or mere translation. The suggestion that S had acted out of fear of being hit and in a panic was so fundamental to his explanation that it was inconceivable that the first time he would recall or mention it was at trial some two-and-a-half years after the accident. On the balance of probabilities the accident had occurred before the forklift truck had attempted to place the racking in the workshop. It had not occurred as a result of any fear or urgency or necessity on the part of S to move the bench. (2) P had failed to comply with its statutory obligation in reg.4(1)(a). The benches were heavy and awkward to move. P should have considered whether it was reasonably practicable to use either a pallet truck or skates in the first instance rather than man power. Having failed to consider the matter P was unable to adduce any evidence that it was not reasonably practicable to use a pallet truck or skates and thereby avoid the need for a manual handling operation. There was also a breach of reg.4(1)(b) in that no suitable risk assessment was undertaken or steps taken to reduce the risk of injury. However any breach was not causative of the accident. S knew that the benches were heavy and that he could not move them on his own. There was no reasonable explanation as to why S tried to do just that. The accident was caused by S's decision to try to move the bench on his own. He was therefore solely responsible for the injury he had suffered.