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the absence of a Manual Handling Risk Assessment is not fatal to your defence

In Stewart v Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust the Court of Appeal considered whether the employer was liable for injury suffered by an employee undertaking a manual handling operation where there had been a failure to risk assess the task.

This case specifically considered the need for a risk assessment of a manual handling task where the weight involved fell within Health and Safety Executive (HSE) risk assessment guidelines and which had been performed without incident or complaint on a daily basis for a significant period of time. It was found that as the task did not give rise to any real risk of injury to a normal healthy person no detailed risk assessment was necessary. As such the Claimant’s appeal was dismissed and the claim failed. 

General risk assessments will remain important but this case indicates that it is not necessary to risk assess individual tasks which are not ordinarily hazardous – there must remain an element of realism in assessing risk. 

Whilst breach of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 no longer gives rise to civil liability following implementation of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, this decision remains relevant and serves as a reminder that an injury suffered by an employee (however unfortunate) may not be the result of ‘fault’ on the part of the employer. Risk assessments remain an important weapon in the Defendant’s armoury but this case demonstrates that in certain circumstances it will be possible to defend cases where the risk posed was negligible.

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