Repetitive strain injuries are often linked to fairly simple repetitive workplace tasks, such as packing on a production line or the regular use of hand tools, so it is easy for employers to fail to recognise the risk such practices pose to employees.
A recent case highlights the need for employers to be vigilant regarding the sort of tasks that could cause injury to employees unless preventive measures are put in place.
Geoffrey Coleman, 41, worked in the finishing department at a factory in Cumbria. The job involved packing large sheets of paper into plastic bags which, once full, weighed about 50 kilograms.
Because the work was extremely repetitive, with little variation in the day-to-day routine, Mr Coleman strained the ligaments in his forearms. This caused him to suffer shooting pains between his elbows and his fingers. As a result of the damage, for a long period he couldn’t pick up objects and so was unable to work.
After bringing a claim against his employer, Mr Coleman won £3,000 in compensation for his injury.
Having become aware of the risk to its employees of injuries associated with performing repetitive tasks, the company carried out an investigation and put in place working practices designed to prevent the risk of future injury.
Employers have a duty of care to prevent their employees being injured at work. To this end, risk assessments must be carried out to identify potential causes of injury. In the case of Mr Coleman’s job, it was essential that employees were regularly rotated between tasks in order to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury.
Useful guidance on managing the risk of repetitive strain injury can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wruldex.htm.