Manual Handling: Sloan v Rastrick High School Governors1

The Court of Appeal upheld a recorder’s decision to dismiss a personal injury claim brought by a learning support assistant who claimed to have sustained soft tissue injuries to her neck and shoulder whilst pushing pupils in their wheelchairs during the course of her employment.

The claimant alleged that her employers had failed to comply with their duties under reg.4(1) the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. Under these regulations an employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, avoid the need for employees to undertake any manual handling operations and where necessary must take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to employees to the lowest level reasonably practicable.

Pupils used their own wheelchairs in school, and their choice of wheelchair was based on medical and therapeutic considerations. There was evidence that requiring manual-wheelchair users to use powered wheelchairs would be contrary to their interests. The recorder addressed that, correctly finding that it was not reasonably practicable to avoid the use of manual wheelchairs. The defendant had sought to reduce the risk of injury in the use of manual wheelchairs by training, regularly rotating staff and keeping slopes to acceptable gradients.

The defendant was also found to have adequate risk assessments in place, prepared by somebody who had sufficient experience and training. It was found neither necessary nor appropriate for the defendant to provide the combined weight of each student and his wheelchair. In any event, their failure to do so was not causative of the claimant’s injury.

Whilst the recorder had misdirected herself as to the burden of proof – It is for the employer  to prove that they had complied with reg4(1), not for the employee to prove the employer had not – she had reached her conclusions on the evidence, without any reliance on the burden of proof. The recorder’s decision was therefore upheld.