Welcome to this month’s Broadcast, which includes articles about whether you can force an employee to have a vaccine, manual handling and first aid at work during the pandemic.
H&S UPDATE: Manual Handling – time for a refresh?
Manual handling occurs in practically every workplace and encompasses everything from lifting and supporting a load, through to transporting the load by pushing it, pulling it, carrying it or moving it in any other way that requires physical labour.
Manual Handling injuries in the UK
Many Musculoskeletal injuries caused by lifting and handling, accumulate over time, caused by carrying out tasks repeatedly rather than being caused by a single incident. Common injuries range from pulling a muscle to damaging tissue, trapping a nerve, crushing vertebrae or causing a hernia. Most injuries are to the back, but hands, arms and feet are also vulnerable to fractures and lacerations.
In the UK, Musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 8.9 million Working days lost in 2019/20 according to the latest Labour Force Survey (LFS). These latest estimates from the Survey also show that the total number of cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2019/20 was 480,000, which equates to a rate of 1,420 per 100,000 workers. Generally, Manual handling, awkward or tiring positions and keyboard work or repetitive action are estimated to be the main causes of injury.
Of the total amount of cases reported, 19% of these were caused by lower limb injuries, 37% by back injuries and 44% were caused by upper limbs or neck injuries. In relation to the total number of reported cases of work related ill-health in 2019/2020 musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 30% of all cases and 27% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.
Manual Handling Legislation
Employers have a responsibility to protect their workers from the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling in the workplace. Employers or employees that seriously breach manual handling regulations potentially face large fines and/or a custodial sentence.
The legislation that covers Manual Handling is The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended in 2002). This legislation requires employers to:
- Avoid hazardous manual handling as far as reasonably practicable. This could be achieved by:
- Redesigning the task to avoid moving the load
- Automating or mechanising the process such as the use of pallet trucks, fork lift truck or a hoist
- Assess the risk of injury when completing your risk assessment; and
- Reduce the risk of injury as far as reasonably practicable.
It is essential that employers have conducted a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and tried to reduce any risks associated with manual handling. This risk assessment must be communicated to all employees.
Assessing the risk of injury
You should consider four specific areas in your risk assessment – Task, Individual, Load and Environment (TILE):
The Task: does it involve twisting, stooping, bending, excessive travel, pushing, pulling or precise positioning of the load, sudden movement, inadequate rest or recovery periods, team handling or seated work?
The Individual: who is the best person for the job considering health, pregnancy, age etc.?
The Load: is it heavy, unwieldy, difficult to grasp, sharp, hot, cold, difficult to grip or are the contents likely to move or shift?
The Environment: are there space constraints, uneven, slippery or unstable floors, variations in floor levels, stairs or steps, doors to open, extremely hot, cold or humid conditions, poor lighting, poor ventilation, gusty winds, clothing or Personal Protective Equipment that restricts movement?
Reducing the Risk
You can reduce the risk of a manual handling accident occurring by:
- Avoid lifting and handing, by using automation
- Use a lifting aid and make sure these are maintained in full working order
- Reduce carrying distances
- Ask for assistance in lifting
- Plan the lift and provide a clear path
- Break the load down into smaller parts
- Train employees in correct lifting and handling techniques
- Make sure you have a good grip on the load, whether lifting, pushing or pulling
- Consider storage height of items to be lifted – lifting below knee height or above shoulder height puts increased strain on the spine
- Provide suitable PPE such as steel toe capped boots and gloves (but ensure these don’t restrict movement)
- Wear suitable clothing that doesn’t threaten to obstruct the lift
Employees should know their limits and be confident to ask for help if needed. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations do not outline a maximum weight limit for manual handling. The HSE has provided guidance on reasonable weight limits based on the lifting ability of an average fit male or female – see below
The guidelines assume that:
- The load is easy to grasp with both hands
- The worker can adopt a stable body position
- The activity is carried out in reasonable working conditions.
It is important to note that these are general guidelines, individual situations and capabilities still need to be taken into consideration. Situational factors to consider are the strength, fitness, and underlying medical conditions the person might have. Then weight to be lifted and distance to be carried, the nature of the load, the postures to be adopted and the availability of equipment to facilitate the lift.
Safe lifting Techniques
To ensure that no injury occurs when moving a load, it is important that the correct technique is used.
To safely lift a load:
- Place feet hip-width apart with one foot slightly in front of each other
- Moderate flexion of the back, hips and knees
- Grasp the load firmly
- Use the leg muscles to lift the load into a standing position.
Whilst holding the load it is important to remember to:
- Keep the back straight, avoiding twisting or bending
- Carry loads with straight arms
- Keep the head up and face straight ahead when handling a load
- Keep the load hugged in close to the body while moving.
Formal Manual Handling training should be provided to all employees at least every 3 years with refresher training completed annually by way of a toolbox talk or safety briefing or alternatively via an online training portal such as the one Stallard Kane Associates provide to all of our clients on our members portal via our website.
SK Training can provide formal handling training. Call 01427 678 660 (option 3) or email email@example.com
HR UPDATE: Can companies force staff to have a Covid-19 vaccination?
After what seems a very long time, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel and many employers will understandably be eager to have their employees vaccinated in hope of their workplace finally returning to some form of normality.
With the coronavirus vaccine rollout picking up pace as part of the Government’s plans for the largest vaccination programme in British history, employers must start to consider the implications for their staff and the workplace.
Is it a legal requirement?
The Government have made it clear that the vaccination will not be a legal requirement. Whilst the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 enables the Government to prevent and control infection, it specifically prevents a person from being required to undertake medical treatments, such as vaccinations.
As it currently stands, it is the Government’s plan to ensure that everyone has access to enough information for them to make an informed decision before they give consent.
Can companies force employees to vaccinate?
In short, no. Whilst employers are likely to be in favour of their employees being vaccinated, there will be workers who are concerned about the vaccine and would prefer not to have it, for various reasons. As such, employers must be aware that forcing employees to be vaccinated could lead to claims of breaching human rights as well as discrimination claims, depending on each case’s circumstance.
All employees, regardless of length of service, are protected against discrimination related to a protected characteristic, including age, disability, pregnancy and religion or beliefs.
Can you discipline an employee who refuses to have the vaccination?
An employer may consider taking disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to take a vaccine, on the basis that it is a breach of an employer’s reasonable instruction. That said, the first question to ask is “is it a reasonable request to enforce an employee to be vaccinated?”
What is important to consider is that whilst the vaccine does reduce the risk of individuals experiencing severe symptoms of Covid-19, it does not prevent the spread of the virus. Those who have been vaccinated can still become infected and pass the virus on. As such, regardless of who has had the vaccine, employers should continue to ensure that other health and safety control measures are in place, with a view of reducing the risk of spread to staff.
On this basis, choosing not to have the vaccine is ultimately the individual’s risk to bear. There are very limited circumstances where disciplinary action will be justified and therefore, employers do run the risk of potential unfair dismissal claims or constructive unfair dismissal, by dismissing or threatening employees because they refuse to take a vaccine.
It is incumbent on the employer to ensure that it fully engages with the employee in order to have a thorough understanding as to why they are refusing, thereby minimising the risk of potential claims.
It’s hard to argue against vaccination as the most effective way to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives. That said, it’s vital to get an individual’s genuine, voluntary, and informed consent, before they are vaccinated.
Employers need to be aware that, whilst the vaccine does reduce the risk of individuals experiencing severe symptoms, it does not mean that employees cannot pass on Covid-19. As such, all employees should continue to follow the government’s guidance on social distancing. Remember Hands, Face, Space.
Any company wishing to take disciplinary action against an employee for refusing to be vaccinated must be able to ensure that they have fully engaged with the employee as to their reason for refusal. Note that there are very limited circumstances where disciplinary action will be justified and so it is strongly advised that if you are considering such action, to consult your designated HR Advisor beforehand.
If any of the above affects you and you would like further guidance or information, please contact your HR Advisor for support, call 01427 678 660 (option 2) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAINING UPDATE: First Aid at Work during the pandemic
HSE have updated their guidance on first aid training during the pandemic, as rescue breaths have been temporarily omitted while coronavirus transmission rates remain high.
The Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) has stated that they are supportive of training providers who may wish to omit practical teaching and assessment of resume breaths in first aid training while coronavirus transmission rates are high.
If you have any training requirements, please get in touch with our training team who would be happy to help. Call 01427 678 660 (option 3) or email email@example.com