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Faulty nursery cot found to breach PUWER

At a glance

  • Broken mechanism prevented the drop-down side of a nursery cot from opening as designed
  • Employee suffered prolapse of lumbar disc and chronic back condition as a result
  • Defendant found in breach of Manual Handling Operation Regulations and the Provision and Use of Work Regulations

The case of: Cooper v Bright Horizons Family Solutions Ltd, 31.07.13, High Court

In early 2008, the claimant began working as a nursery nurse for the defendant. When commencing working for the defendant, the claimant said she had previously suffered back problems and was undergoing physiotherapy.

Broker Top Tips

• This injury arose through the defendant employer failing to heed its own advice as to preventing injury to employees – the risk which led to the claimant’s injury had previously been identified in the defendant’s own risk assessment. This clearly highlights the importance of an organisation following its own advice which is intended to avoid its liability for a foreseeable injury to a person who might otherwise be injured.

• Organisations providing work equipment have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure that the equipment is maintained in a safe condition.

• As well as the act, there are further regulations such as PUWER and the MHO for specific workplace situations. Work equipment must be maintained in proper working order to avoid breaching PUWER.

• A programme of regular risk assessment, maintenance and inspection by a competent person should be implemented to reduce the chances of claims occurring.

• Further information, including instructions on manual handling training are available on the Health and Safety Executive website.

In June 2009, while laying a baby in a cot, the claimant felt pain in her back. She sat down to try to relieve the pain. As she reached over the side of the cot to the baby, she then felt further, more severe pain in her back. Tests showed she had suffered a major prolapse of a lumbar disc, leading to a rare spinal condition known as cauda equina syndrome.

The claimant claimed damages from the defendant, alleging her injury was caused by their negligence and/or breach of the Manual Handling Operation Regulations 1992 (the MHO) and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). Her allegations included that there was a real risk of her being injured through being unable to lower the baby into the cot by opening its side, as the mechanism had broken.

Further, she alleged the cot had not been maintained in an efficient state and in efficient working order. The claimant was operated on but, by the date of trial, had not made a complete recovery, attending court in a wheelchair.

The judge noted the drop-down side of the cot could not be opened due to a faulty mechanism, requiring the claimant to bend over its side to lay the baby down. The judge held that the defendant had breached regulation 5(1) of PUWER by failing to maintain the cot in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.

The judge also held that the defendant had breached regulation 4(1)(a) of the MHO, which requires employers, so far as reasonably practicable, to avoid their employees undertaking manual handling tasks that carry a risk of their being injured. There was a real and foreseeable risk of injury to the claimant in having to lay the baby down by leaning over the faulty drop-down side of the cot.

The defendant’s risk assessment had identified a medium level of risk to employees with known back problems, as in the claimant’s case, and a high level of risk where loads had to be lifted away from the body, as here. Had the defendant not failed to follow its own guidance, the claimant’s injury would have been avoided.

The judge rejected the defendant’s contention that the claimant would have developed cauda equina syndrome in any event. The defendant was held liable for the claimant’s condition and damages will be assessed later.

Please click here for full judgment.

Image © Getty

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