Manual handling at the workplace may involve carrying, lifting, lowering, pushing or pulling activities of heavy loads and objects. Without proper training and health and safety measures, manual handling tasks can cause minor to severe injuries to employees.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, your employer has a duty of care to keep you safe by carrying out regular risk assessments and providing adequate training and personal protective equipment. If they fail to do so, you might be entitled to make a manual handling claim for your injuries.
Manual handling injuries can range from minor cuts, bruises and muscular injuries to hernias, fractures and internal injuries. Aside from physical pain, an injury can be debilitating and have long-term or permanent effects. You might need to take some time off work to recover and may incur substantial financial losses.
The industries with the highest risks for manual handling injuries include agriculture, health and care, construction, manufacturing and postal services. Best practice and prevention are essential to keep injuries from happening.
What are manual handling injuries?
Manual handling refers to moving and transporting a load from one place to another. It involves various activities like pushing, pulling, throwing, lifting and putting down different types of goods.
Repetitive manual handling activities and heavy loads can cause injuries either over time due to wear and tear or in a single traumatic accident. These injuries are known as manual handling injuries and include:
The back is the most affected body part by manual handling. It does not take much to suffer a back injury, especially if you do not have a good lifting technique. Lifting is not the only activity that can lead to a back injury. Poor posture while carrying a load, twisting and putting it down can also cause damage to the back.
Common back injuries include slipped and herniated disks and lumbar strain caused by damage to the muscles and tendons in the lower back. The symptoms include pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, spasms and reduced mobility. While some injuries can heal with rest and physical therapy, others can cause long-term or permanent damage.
Upper limb injuries
The arms are the second most affected body part by manual handling injuries. All manual handling activities will involve gripping and carrying a load with your hands. Typical arm injuries include damage to muscles, tendons and ligaments, along with injuries to nerves and blood vessels.
Furthermore, handling hot or sharp objects can cause severe burns, scalds, cuts and lacerations. You could suffer an injury to any part of the arms, including the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and any of the 24 muscles that make up each arm.
Lower limb injuries
Repetitive leg movements while picking up, carrying and putting down a load can cause strain injuries to the muscles, nerves and tendons in the legs, especially the knee caps. Furthermore, dropping a heavy cargo on your legs can cause severe bruising, cuts, lacerations and even fractures, especially on the feet.
Lifting or carrying objects that are too heavy, repetitive motions and overuse and bending the neck at an unusual angle can lead to a neck injury, such as muscle strains, straining on the joints in the neck or a pinched nerve in the neck area.
Neck strain and stiffness can stop you from carrying out regular work and daily activities and might require therapy and considerable time to heal. You might have to take time off work and need help and assistance with household activities. All this can amount to significant financial losses, for which you might be able to claim compensation.
A sudden strain or force and poor lifting of heavy loads can cause hernias. Hernias occur when an internal body part such as the intestine or fatty tissue from the abdomen pushes through a weakness in the abdominal muscle walls, causing swelling or a lump.
Symptoms of a hernia include pain and discomfort, a heavy feeling in the groin, swelling and weakness. Fever, nausea and vomiting and inability to have a bowel movement are signs that you should seek immediate medical assistance.
The above injuries are typical manual handling injuries, but the list is not exhaustive. Manual handling accidents can also cause face, head, chest and abdomen injuries or the worsening of existing medical problems. If your employer or another party breached their duty of care towards you, you might be able to make a manual handling injury claim.
Can I make a manual handling injury claim?
The most straightforward way to find out if you have a valid claim is by having a brief and free of charge conversation with a legal adviser. They will ask you questions about how you developed your injury, your work practices and the safety measures in place to decide if someone else might be responsible for causing you harm.
As a general rule, a manual handling claim should be possible if:
- Another party, usually your employer, owed you a duty of care
- Their negligence led to a manual handling accident
- You were injured or learned of an injury no longer than three years ago
If these criteria apply to your case, you will need relevant evidence to support your claim, such as:
- Photos or videos of the accident scene, before anything is moved or repaired
- Contact detail of co-workers or visitors who were present when your accident happened
- Accident reports. Employers must record any accidents in the workplace in an accident logbook, and you are entitled to ask for a signed copy of the report.
- CCTV footage, if your workplace has security cameras. You should ask for a copy of any CCTV recording as soon as possible since these videos may get overwritten after a short period.
- Medical records of your injuries, the treatments and medication you received, any long-term effects and your recovery prospects.
- A detailed statement of your work practises, schedule, duties and the equipment you were using.
- Your training records, stating the manual handling instructions you received
- Records of any financial losses you incurred because of your accident
What are common causes of manual handling accidents?
Manual handling injuries can have severe implications for the injured person. To avoid them, employers should regularly identify the factors that may increase the risk of an injury. The risk factors are related to one or more of the four aspects of manual handling:
- The load – if the load is too heavy, too large, unbalanced, unstable, difficult to grasp or difficult to reach, it may cause an injury.
- The task – the risk of back injury increases if the task is too strenuous or it involves awkward postures, twisting or movements.
- The environment – accidents are more likely if there is limited space available, the floors are slippery, uneven or unstable or if there is insufficient lighting or extreme temperatures.
- The individual – some individual factors like training, experience, age, physical characteristics, health condition and personal lifestyle can increase or decrease the risk of manual handling injuries.
Some typical causes of manual handling accidents include:
- Lifting heavy or bulky loads
- Sustained awkward body posture
- Stacking or unstacking boxes or crates
- Twisting, turning or bending the back to pick up an object
- Reaching something with outstretched arms
- Working beyond physical capacity or when overtired
- Carrying loads awkwardly or one-handed
- Pushing wheeled racks
- Handling loads that are difficult to grasp
- Lifting items from high shelves
- Inadequate lifting equipment
- Lack of regular rest brakes
- Moving awkwardly shaped items
Your employer should implement adequate measures to reduce the chances of manual handling accidents. If they fail to assess the risks and implement the necessary safety measures, you might be entitled to make a manual handling injury claim.
To avoid manual handling accidents, you should follow some general guidelines for correct handling techniques:
- Before lifting, make sure your path is free of obstacles, level and not slippery
- Make sure you have a firm grip on the object
- If the load is too heavy or awkward to grip, seek assistance
- While lifting, use the muscles in your legs and maintain a straight back
- Keep the cargo close to your body
- Push and pull heavy loads by using your own body weight
- Avoid twisting or bending the back
What are the regulations regarding manual handling at work?
The central regulations regarding manual handling at work are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR 1992). Both pieces of regulation clearly state what your employer’s obligations are at the workplace.
If manual handling tasks are unavoidable, employers must conduct comprehensive risk assessments to identify all potential hazards that might cause an injury. Once the risks are identified, employers have a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to eliminate or minimise them.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take responsibility for the health and safety of employees as far as reasonably practicable, by:
- Providing and maintaining safe systems and a safe place of work
- Provide adequate safety training to employees
- Communicate with safety representatives
- Ensure safe operation and maintenance of equipment
- Ensure that all cargo is handled, transported and stored safely
The MHOR 1992 sets out a hierarchy of measures for dealing with risks from manual handling:
- Firstly, avoid any hazardous manual handling tasks as far as reasonably possible
- Secondly, assess the dangerous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
- Thirdly, reduce the risk of injury as far as possible
The MHOR 1992 regulations also state the employees’ duties, which include:
- Follow the work systems in place
- Adequately use any equipment provided to them
- Cooperate with employers on health and safety measures
- Inform employers about hazardous handling tasks they identify
- Make sure their activities do not put others at risk
If you suffered a manual handling accident because your employer failed to carry out their duties towards you, you might be entitled to make a manual handling claim.
A professional solicitor can let you know if there was a breach of duty and whether you have a valid claim. For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410 or enter your details to receive a call back.
What steps should employers take to prevent manual handling injuries?
Employers must take all the reasonable steps dictated by legislation to prevent manual handling accidents. These include:
- Review the working practices and eliminate all manual handling that is not absolutely necessary
- Redesign tasks to avoid moving loads
- Consider whether any operations could be automated or mechanised to eliminate manual handling
- Carry out risk assessments of any manual handling duties that cannot be eliminated
- Consider all risks arising from the task, load, working environment and individual capacity
- Record and review all the hazards and consider how they could harm employees
- Provide details of the weight and nature (hot, slippery, sharp) of each load, when practical to do so
- Consider the strength and capacity of every individual worker
- Repack heavy cargos into smaller packages
- Change the workspace to reduce bending, twisting and carrying distances
- Reduce the need to lift loads from floor level or above shoulder height
- Change the environmental conditions, including heat, lighting and vibrations
- Consider how often manual handling is necessary and provide adequate breaks
- Take into account the individual requirements of workers who may be especially at risk
- Provide appropriate information and manual handling training
- Keep the floors and walkways clean and free of obstacles
This is just a partial list of what employers should consider and implement to reduce manual handling accidents at the workplace. An occupational health and safety coordinator can advise employers about managing the risks associated with manual handling tasks.
If you suffered an accident because your employer failed to identify or address the risks associated with manual handling, you might be entitled to make a manual handling injury claim.
How long do I have to make a manual handling compensation claim?
According to the Limitation Act 1980, you usually have three years to make a claim after the date of your accident. This is known as the claim limitation date, after which your case becomes statute-barred, and you can no longer claim compensation. There are exceptions to the three-year limitation date, including:
- If you developed a manual handling injury over time due to repetitive strain or overuse, the three-year countdown begins on the date of knowledge of your injury.
- You can claim compensation on behalf of a child if they were working part-time or were on a work experience at any point before turning 18. Afterwards, they have three years to make their own claim.
- If the victim of a manual handling accident lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings, you could claim on their behalf. A person may lack capacity due to a neurological condition, a mental illness, or if they suffered a severe brain injury as a result of their accident. In these circumstances, no time limits apply; the three-year countdown begins only if the victim regains intellectual ability.
- If you suffered a manual handling injury while working abroad, you could still make a compensation claim. The claim limitation date can vary significantly from country to country and may be as short as six months. You should contact a personal injury solicitor as soon as possible to ensure you do not miss your chance to make a claim.
- If your accident was caused by faulty equipment or machinery, you could make a manual handling claim within three years since the defect was discovered.
Regardless of what time limit might apply to your situation, leaving a case until the last minute is a bad idea. Evidence might be harder to find, witnesses less likely to give a statement, and you could forget some important details about how your accident occurred. Furthermore, solicitors do not usually accept a case with less than six months left until the limitation date.
You might delay making a claim worrying that this will cost you your job or create a conflict with your employer. You should know that the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 states that every employer must have insurance to cover any personal injury claim.
If you make a manual handling claim, it will be their insurer that pays your compensation, while your employer will not lose a penny. Furthermore, unfair dismissal laws state it is illegal for you to get sacked or disciplined for claiming for an injury at the workplace.
How much compensation can I claim for a manual handling injury?
The amount of compensation you might receive largely depends on the type and severity of the manual handling injury you sustained. Some other factors that influence your compensation award are the pain and suffering you endured, your recovery prospects and any financial losses you incurred.
In any personal injury claim, you can request compensation for special damages and general damages:
Special damages can include the following:
- Private healthcare treatment
- Costs of care and assistance
- Rehabilitation and psychological therapy
- Loss of income, including future losses
- Household and vehicle adaptations
- Transportation costs
Compensation for general damages can cover:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Psychological and emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
- Inability to pursue a hobby
- Loss of prospects and enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
- Physical and mental impairment
Unlike special damages, you cannot mathematically assess general or non-pecuniary damages. Compensation for general damages is calculated by referring to the guidelines offered by the Judicial College and similar manual handling injury compensation awards. Based on these guidelines, you could get:
- Up to £1,860 for a minor back injury with recovery within a few months
- £1,860 – £6,000 for a moderate back injury with symptoms that last a few years
- £9,500 – £21,100 for back injuries with mild permanent symptoms
- £53,000 – £67,200 for a back injury causing severe permanent symptoms
- £6,000 to £36,500 for temporary or permanent neck and shoulder injuries
- £4,000 to £48,300 for upper limb injuries
- £10,450 to £73,125 for lower limb injuries
- £26,300 to £49,270 for mild chronic pain caused by a hernia
- £2,220 to £7,350 for superficial body scarring
According to NHS Resolution, the insurance company that handles all claims against the NHS, between April 2009 and March 2019, they settled 2,008 manual handling claims made by staff members. Within the healthcare industry, manual handling injuries may arise from supporting or moving patients or interactions with equipment.
NHS Resolution paid £57.1 million in damages, with the following compensation awards:
- £20,000 for back and shoulder injuries sustained while assisting patients
- £35,000 for shoulder injuries caused by moving equipment
- £109,000 for back injuries caused by supporting a bariatric patient
- £290,000 for neck injuries caused by repetitive manual handling tasks
Can manual handling claims be made using no win no fee?
You can usually fund a valid manual handling injury claim by reaching a no win no fee agreement. When you contact a personal injury solicitor, they will ask you questions about how your accident occurred to try and determine who might be liable for your injury.
If they believe you have a fair chance of success, your solicitor will accept your case without asking for any upfront fees. Furthermore, if you make a no win no fee claim, they will take out After the Event (ATE) insurance on your behalf. The ATE insurance policy provides full coverage if your case turns out unsuccessful.
If you win, the defendant must cover most of your legal costs. You will only have to pay the ATE premium and a success fee to your solicitor. The success fee cannot exceed 25% of your compensation, and you will agree upon it before starting legal proceedings.
Due to the lack of financial risks and upfront fees, a no win no fee agreement is usually the preferred way of funding a personal injury claim. If your case seems solid, your solicitor will assume the risk to work on your claim, knowing they will get no payment if you don’t receive compensation. This way, you can rest assured they will give their best to win your case.
To start your no win no fee claim, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation. If you prefer to receive a call back, you can arrange this by entering your contact details into our online claim form.