A recent case involving a large payout for a worker who injured their back at work highlights the importance of good controls and supervision of manual tasks in all workplaces. In this case the worker was a warehouse worker for Woolworths, who sustained a back injury in the process of moving product on the tines of a Walkie-Stacker. Further details of the case can be found here.
It was alleged by the worker that he was required to use a metal bar to lever the product on the forklift tines, due to the fact the the walkie-stacker did not have side-shift and reach functions. In the process of using the bar he sustained the injury, although he did not report this at the time. The employer disputed the need for this action (using the bar), claiming that other systems were in place and able to be used, however conceded that it did not have a procedure for this activity. The judge agreed that the injury was consistent with the description and awarded damages.
The case itself is complex, and I don’t mean to minimise it with a short post, however there are learnings for all companies here. We have covered good management of manual tasks in previous blogs. The keys to good management of manual tasks (and other risks) is to follow the risk management formula. That is…
- Identify manual handling risks (talking to workers in this situation may have helped the company identify the issue and control it directly)
- Assess the risks and prioritise those that need to be controlled.
- Control (reduce) the risk – where possible using the hierarchy of control.
- Monitor the hazard / risk to ensure controls are effective (here we can also see an opportunity. Regular supervision of the process would have shown the employer that current controls were either ineffective of not understood by workers).
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has some excellent resources that relate to Manual Tasks Control and Common Law Claims. I would recommend:
Michael Terry (Momentum Safety and Ergonomics)