Manual handling – duty to assess risk – scope of duty under MHOR – contributory negligence
K, a 47 year old care assistant employed in a residential home for children with learning difficulties, sustained a back injury as she bent to pull a low wooden bed from against the wall. K sued against her employers in negligence and for breach of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, and the court at first instance dismissed the claim on the basis that the task resulted in no significant risk of injury for the purposes of Reg. 4(1) MHOR 1992. K appealed, contending that there should not have been a presumption that the task would have been carried out in a normal manner and there was no requirement that the risk of injury should be significant
Dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal held that whilst nothing more than a real risk was required to bring a particular case within the scope of Reg. 4, it was nevertheless also necessary to consider the background against which the incident had taken place and assess the alleged obligation in its real context. In the instant case, the judge had been entitled to take into account the fact that this was a small residential home with a small number of staff and that K was an experienced staff member who had been carrying out similar tasks for very many years. Further, the court had been entitled to take into account the fact that K had received prior training in bending and lifting techniques. The imposition of a duty to assess each task and provide guidance as to how those tasks were to be carried out in circumstances where innumerable everyday domestic tasks were involved would be impracticable. In the circumstances there was no breach of statutory duty and in any event K would have been held 100 per cent contributorily negligent.