A Manager at a high street fashion chain is suing her employer for more than £1m, claiming that she suffered “crippling injuries” from picking up an earring. The employee was running Coast’s clothes and accessories concession at the House of Fraser department store in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, when
she bent down to retrieve the earring, which had fallen under a gondola display unit. The employee claims she suffered 'irreparable' back injuries as a result of attempting to move the gondola unit, which left her in 'unbearable' pain and that her employer broke health and safety rules which resulted in her career and health being destroyed. Coast Fashions insists the company is not to blame and believes that the employee should have used a stick to retrieve the earring and that there was no requirement or expectation for her to move the gondola and that in doing so she breached the training she'd been given on manual handling and was effectively the author of her own misfortune.
As employers we all have a duty to undertake risk assessments of activities in the workplace and to put in place suitable and sufficient controls to mitigate risk. In this sort of situation an employer may feel that providing manual handling training means they have gone a long way to addressing risk. Sadly there is always the chance that someone will operate 'outside the guidelines' and it will be interesting to see how this one pans out when it comes to court in November. As employers we are required to do as much as is reasonably practicable. It will be for the court to decide what, in this case, that means.