In my March 2018 article I wrote about how employers can reduce risk by being aware of “the exception”.
There has been much discussion about this and many more examples can be given.
A system of work can be generally safe but circumstances may conspire to make a system of work applied in standard circumstances unsafe when applied in unusual or even slightly different circumstances.
My advice to employers is to put themselves in the position of each worker who conducts the work to see whether the system is actually safe for that particular worker.
For example, in a manual role requiring repetitive lifting of low to moderate weights, a safe system of work could be devised taking into account existing workers in that role. If the existing workers are experienced, strong individuals, would the system of work still be regarded by a court as safe if the task was undertaken at a later stage (even after appropriate training) by a person weakened by a known injury or slightly built and elderly?
In that situation it may be no defence to state the worker allegedly received training in a safe work procedure. One can imagine the question in cross examination: "Is this the same work procedure which was devised for strong young workers which you required the frail 65 year old worker to undertake?”
Lifting injuries are foreseeable, so workers are trained on safe manual handling techniques such as squatting close to the item to be lifted, keeping the back straight and vertical, and lifting with the knees.
That training may be appropriate, depending on the weight to be lifted and if items are lifted infrequently. What if items are to be lifted frequently over many hours with added complicating features such as quotas or deadlines?
In those circumstances, it is foreseeable that fatigue or inadvertence will result in injury being suffered either despite adherence to the correct procedure or due to unconsciously “cutting corners”.
Wherever possible, particularly in tasks involving fatigue-inducing tasks or repetition, risks caused by momentary inadvertence should be engineered out of the process.
That is why we have guards on saws.
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