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Swaine v Denso Marston Ltd

21 September 2000
The issues

Manual Handling Regulations 1992 – injury to the right hand.

The facts

The Claimant was a Production Worker. He had worked for the Defendant for fourteen years. He had to strip down part of a conveyor system at the Defendant’s premises in Leeds. The bearings on the conveyor roller needed to be replaced. He had to move the roller himself to do this. He expected it to be hollow as his experience of the conveyor rollers always were. This one was solid and weighed 20KG. As he removed it the unexpected weight trapped his right hand against the metal frame and caused a crush injury. The conveyor had been supplied by an outside supplier and the Claimant had originally seen the conveyor at the supplier’s premises when it had been fully assembled. He had never had to strip it down himself. He had not been told by the suppliers about the weight of the roller and no brochure had been made available to him. It is common ground that the liability issue turned on the Manual Handling Operating Regulations 1992. The Claimant alleged a breach of regulations 4(1)(b)(iii) of the regulations requiring an employer to take appropriate steps to provide employees undertaking manual handling operations with general indications and where reasonably practical to do so precise information on the weight of each load. At Trial the Judge decided that these obligations arose only where a suitable and sufficient risk assessment had been undertaken and had revealed the existence of the risk. Moreover the Judge found that the Claimant had been engaged in carrying out an assessment himself. As the accident had occurred before the assessment was complete he concluded that no obligation had arisen under regulation 4(1)(b)(iii).
The Claimant appealed.

The decision

Appeal would be allowed.

An employer who fails to carry out a proper assessment under regulation 4(1)(b)(i) is not excused from compliance of other obligations under the regulation as a consequence of its failure. The requirement to take appropriate steps related not only to the means of communicating information but more generally to the practicality of what is needed in the circumstances. This was not a case in which the Defendant could rely on the proposition that an employer’s obligation to transmit information arose only if a proper assessment would have identified a risk of injury. If a proper assessment had been taken the Defendant might well have required the supplier to provide a brochure or specification. If none of that was possible prudence would have dictated the assumption that it might be unexpectedly heavy. At least that assumption could have been communicated to employees who needed the information. In concluding moreover that the Claimant had been undertaking the assessment the Judge formed an impossible view of the facts as it was claimed that the Claimant had been engaged in an urgent maintenance job.

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