The High Court, in Spes, Slavomir v Windcanton Ireland Ltd , has found the defendant company negligent for failing to train its employees on how to turn correctly when carrying heavy loads, and awarded the plaintiff damages of €153,150.
The plaintiff employee worked in a retail distribution centre as a ‘picker’. His job involved lifting goods from pallets and placing them on trolleys. On the day in question, he suffered an injury to his back while attempting to lift five trays of yoghurts onto a trolley.
In the High Court action the plaintiff claimed that the injury sustained was due to his employer's negligence and amounted to a breach of the employer's statutory duty of care. The argument centred on the fact that although manual handling training was provided, the plaintiff was never properly trained as to the correct technique when twisting or turning while carrying a heavy load. Additionally, he argued that the daily pick rate of 1200 picks was unreasonably high, resulting in undue pressure being placed on him and therefore increasing the likelihood of injury. He further contended that he should have been rotated between heavy and light lifting work. The plaintiff stated that these combined factors led to his back being weakened over the years, resulting in the acute back pain he experienced daily and his inability to return to work.
The central issue of liability turned on whether the employee received adequate training from his employer. The court assessed the training and refresher training he had received, and found it to be deficient: the documentary evidence produced regarding the provided training had been ‘somewhat of a box ticking exercise’, rather than anything of any real substance. The court reasoned that the inadequate training was then aggravated by the excessive pressure the employee was under to reach his daily targets.
In assessing damages, the court took into account medical and actuarial evidence supporting the fact that the plaintiff would not be able to return to his pre-accident work and that as a result of the accident, he had been left at a significant employment disadvantage due to his limited English and lack of qualifications. The court awarded general and future damages for pain and suffering, as well as future damages for loss of earnings.
This decision is a stark reminder that simply having a written manual handling training policy in place will not be sufficient to avoid liability for work-place accidents or injuries. Employers must properly monitor the situation and provide appropriate training on an ongoing basis.