$585,000 paid to a worker due to poor manual handling instructions

Workplace health and safety is a shared responsibility; per the WHS Act, employers have a duty to identify, eliminate or mitigate risks as much is as reasonably practicable. Similarly, employees are required to follow the policies, procedures and reasonable directions of their employer, and take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety of themselves, their colleagues and others at the worksite.

What is the most common mechanism of injury in the workplace?

Over the last 16 years, we have seen a decrease in the amount of serious workers’ compensation claims in Australia, from a high of 133,040 claims in 2000/01 to 106,260 in 2016/17. While this is a move in the right direction, the average time lost per serious claim has increased from 4.2 to 5.8 weeks and the compensation paid from $5,200 to $11,500 (double the cost of inflation).

60% of these injuries involve the musculoskeletal system, with “body stressing” better known as Manual Handling the most common mechanism of injury, resulting in 38% of all serious claims in 2016/17. A recent case involving an injury after a worker attempted to lift a 62kg crate highlights the importance of documenting and implementing proper safe work procedures, and ongoing training of workers to avoid injuries during hazardous manual tasks.

What happened?

In 2005 a man suffered spinal injuries when lifting a crate weighing 62kg. He claimed he was filling the crate with assembled fuse boxes and needed to move it to make room for an empty crate. His employer provided trolleys for this task, but none were available at the time as they were all full. He claimed other employees had also lifted full crates on their own and there was never any direction not to do so.

In 2018 a jury agreed, awarding $585,000 in damages. His employer argued that the worker failed to comply with their system of work prohibiting workers lifting weights over 20kg without assistance, and his compensation was reduced by 38% due to his negligence.

The worker appealed this decision, and a copy of the manual handling document he was provided in his 2002 induction was provided to the appeals court. They found “buried in the middle of a seven-line paragraph” was a statement that said, “As a rough rule of thumb, persons should not lift unassisted weights greater than about 20kg.”

The evidence

The evidence provided showed the system of work provided to the worker “involved no more than general instructions about manual handling” and judged the workers actions did not amount to him negligently contributing to his injury. The worker was subsequently awarded the full $585,000 in compensation.

The incidence rate of serious claims is over 50% higher in manufacturing and construction when compared to that of the entire Australian workforce, highlighting the importance of ongoing instructional / task specific and competency based manual handling training coupled with proper safe work procedures.

Provide your workforce with a comprehensive risk management system

At Ethos Health, we have been providing competency based Hazardous Manual Task training to manufacturing, government, aged care, transport, mining and construction clients for over 15 years. By utilising a participatory approach, including spending time in the field with the workers, we aim to minimise the risk of injury through better education and awareness.

Our MoveSafe training involves a theory component in order to explain the common warning signs and concepts of musculoskeletal injuries, before a task specific practical demonstration and assessment session to discuss site specific manual tasks, hazards and possible controls. Following training, each participant should be able to identify hazards in the workplace and implement controls to decrease the risk of injury to themselves and their colleagues.

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