Problems at work: librarian’s career destroyed by heavy lifting

UNISON member wins compensation after heavy lifting causes chronic back pain

A library assistant who suffered a manual handling injury while working for Flintshire County Council has, with the help of UNISON, been compensated for permanent back problems that mean she can no longer work.

The 54-year-old UNISON member from Wales was instructed by the council to help move 80,000 books from one area of the library to another, over four months in 2008 and 2009.

She was told to lift stacks of books and pack them into boxes – weighing up to 22kg (50lbs) each – which were then loaded onto trolleys and moved through the facility.

The council had not trained her in manual handling techniques and she developed back pain from the persistent heavy lifting. She told her manager and took three days off to rest. But after returning to work she was once again told to carry on with moving boxes, despite her back problems.

The pain became so severe that her back seized up altogether. Flintshire Council did not offer her alternative light duties and subsequently dismissed her on grounds of medical incapability.

Despite seeking treatment from a specialist pain clinic to help her to manage the discomfort, she continues to suffer from chronic back pain that prevents her from working.

Having contacted UNISON for support, the member was represented by Thompsons Solicitors, who investigated her claim for compensation. Flintshire County Council denied liability for the injury, until court proceedings were launched. Thompsons successfully negotiated over £23,000 in compensation to cover the member for lost earnings.

She said: “I never had any problems with my back before lifting those boxes, but now I have to adapt my life around managing the pain.

“The fact that my employers denied they were to blame for my injuries and the end of my career was particularly galling. I planned to carry on working until retirement, to help pay for my daughter’s university tuition fees, but that’s no longer an option for me.”

UNISON regional secretary Margaret Thomas said: “Manual handling injuries are among the most common injuries in the workplace. And yet employers still see fit not to equip their workers with the skills to shift loads safely.

“In this case, our member should not have been instructed to carry out such heavy lifting without the correct safety protocols being followed. Her injury was entirely preventable and Flintshire Council’s actions showed complete disregard for her well-being.”

Helen Templeton from Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the UNISON member, said: “Our client’s employer completely shirked their duty of care towards her. No risk assessments, no training and no recognition of the damage they did to her health until court proceedings forced their hand.

“This case could have been resolved far more quickly and painlessly had the defendant not denied liability until the very last minute.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of U magazine