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Manual Handling - A Common Sense Approach

Public authorities with responsibility for employees who are subject to the Manual Handling Regulations 1992 can take heart that the Courts will apply a realistic test when considering whether an employer had complied with Regulation 4 and had taken reasonable steps to reduce the risk of injury to the "lowest level reasonably practicable", and had ensured that training is "full and adequate" and risk assessments are prepared by a person with the "relevant training and experience".

A good example is the recent Court of Appeal decision in "Sloan v The Governors of Rastrick High School" [2014] EWCA Civ1063, which was an appeal by the Claimant following dismissal of her claim for personal injury.

The Claimant worked in a mainstream school as a LSA supporting students with mobility problems. She claimed that as a result of pushing students in their wheelchairs she had suffered injury. She relied on alleged breaches of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, in particular failure under Reg 4.

The Trial Judge's findings were that the school had not been in breach of manual handling regulations, despite the Claimant's complaint that her injuries had been caused by pushing one or more students in their manual (non-powered) wheelchairs without proper training or a full risk assessment. The Claimant also argued that the risk could have been avoided if the students had powered wheelchairs. The judge dismissed that argument, stating "giving every student a powered wheelchair would have militated against that student's progression towards rehabilitation and independence."

The Appeal Judges placed emphasis on the fact that the school had no choice in the types of wheelchairs used by students as it did not provide them. The Appeal Court upheld the Trial Judge's findings that it was not possible to avoid pushing students in wheelchairs. Even powered chairs would still require manual handling, which could not be avoided. The fact that the school had not provided the Claimant with precise information on the combined weight of each wheelchair and student did not inevitably lead to a finding of negligence or mean that the risk assessments were not suitable and sufficient.

The case (and appeal) involved many issues including the extent of the alleged injuries. Perhaps the Trial Judge's decision to dismiss the claim was influenced by her finding the Claimant's memory was "selective" and she was "prone to exaggeration".

This case is a victory for common sense.