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Health and Safety is All About Realism and Context - High Court Guidance

Discerning whether an employer has breached its health and safety duties following a workplace accident is no mechanistic process and is all about realism and context. The High Court made that point in the case of an engineering technician who broke his hand whilst handling an unwieldy piece of machinery.

The man was manoeuvring a dispensing pump on his workbench when it toppled over, causing a hyperextension fracture to his left hand. The injury was sufficiently serious to render him unfit to continue in his job. He subsequently launched a claim for damages against his employer, citing alleged breaches of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

In dismissing his claim, a judge noted that his role was that of a production line fault-finder and fixer. Individual risk assessments of each and every one of the many and varied tasks he performed would have been impossible to carry out in practice, running to thousands of pages. He was instead trained in dynamic risk assessment skills by which he performed his own assessments and employed his own discretion as to the safest means of completing tasks.

He was a highly experienced and skilled man who was performing a unique task. He had been appropriately trained in the need to undertake an assessment of what was or was not within his capability and what he could or could not undertake safely. There was nothing so inherently or uniquely dangerous about the task that he required a one-off warning or a specific risk assessment.

In rejecting the man's appeal against that outcome, the Court could find no fault in the judge's ruling that the task did not involve a foreseeable risk of injury and that the relevant duties enshrined in the Regulations were therefore not engaged. The judge's ruling was open to him on the evidence and exhibited a realistic approach to the occupational context of the accident.