Although the case involved a former Woolworths worker, who was awarded more than $230,000 for injuries resulting in the manual handling of heavy boxes, Gold Coast lawyer Bruce Simmonds says that it was similar to many injury claims he has represented on behalf of nurses and nursing home staff.
"Hospitals and nursing homes especially should take note of the court’s decision," said Simmonds. "I have had many similar claims for injured staff at hospitals and nursing homes where they are put at risk when they especially have to move large, overweight patients."
"It's especially worrying for staff, including nurses, at understaffed hospitals and nursing homes," Simmonds said. "They are trying to provide the best possible care for their patients, but female staff in particular are suffering injury when moving bulky patients."
"Young nurses lacking proper help have to physically move bigger, bulkier people who may not be able to move themselves and thus are a dead weight. Hospitals and nursing homes need to ensure they have proper staffing levels and ensure staff are not put in a position where they could be injured while helping patients," added Simmonds.
Unfortunately situations like these are all too common in the healthcare industry and also affect staff who are physically able to perform manual handling duties, albeit differently.
A recent site assessment at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne by Fallshaw Group’s Lee Hancox uncovered a phenomenon where some staff didn’t even realise the effect that repetitive physical tasks had on them until it was removed from their work.
"I was talking with a chap who pushed heavy linen carts around the hospital all day," said Hancox. "I had just dropped off a linen mover there as part of a week long trial we were conducting and this guy, who was quite a big guy, was sceptical about the staff needing this unit or how this would make his job easier."
"After the trial I had gone over to collect the linen mover and he said that in the week that he had been using the linen mover, he was able to spend more time playing with his kids after work instead of collapsing on the couch," Hancox said. "He didn’t realise the toll the physical work was taking on his body until we took that component away from him."
"Removing the physical aspect of a job means that you can change the requirements of the type of staff you need to do the job," added Hancox. "Incorporating powered equipment to a work process allows employers to utilise their staff more effectively and remove some prerequisites that could stop someone from doing a manually intensive task."
This latest court decision provides a timely wake up call for employers to look after their staff with regard to heavy lifting tasks. Combined with recent amendments to Victorian occupational health and safety laws granting the government more powers to prosecute breaches, employer attitudes to workplace safety is under more scrutiny than ever.
Simmonds concludes, "hospitals and nursing homes have a duty of care to their patients but also to their staff. As a duty holder, if your staff moves heavy loads at work, you should pay be paying attention.