Manual handling: Claims trends and emerging risks

During the height of the pandemic and throughout the various lockdown periods, the work environments of many businesses and their employees changed. With staff in some industries furloughed and out of the business for a long time, employees were not performing their roles as they would in the normal course of their job. This has impacted the number of manual handling-related claims we have seen linked to the workplace.

When we talk about Manual Handling claims there are two different types of claims: injuries based on one off incidents/accidents and then injuries that occur over a period of time as a result of ongoing repetitive strain. The pandemic has had an impact on both of these types of claims.

What has been the impact on the one off incidents?

Comparing data from September 2019 - February 2020 (six months prior to the initial lockdown) against the data from April 2020-September 2020, we saw around a 34%* decline in the number of employers liability claims linked to manual handling duties. One possible reason for this is due to a number of workplaces being closed and employees on furlough.

Interestingly 32% of those claims that have been made in the latter period are against our clients in the leisure industry. One explanation for this could be that due to the intermittent and occasional requirement to lift or move things (rather than a role that is solely based around manual handling activities), staff in this industry may be less well-trained in the correct lifting/moving procedures and therefore more at risk of these types of injury. This industry has also been impacted by high staff turnover which could also mean staff not trained properly.

At the other end of the spectrum, we saw the fewest claims against clients in the construction industry. This is in keeping with pre-pandemic trends as injuries here tend to be more from machinery or falls from height and not from lifting and manual handling.

What has been the impact on the repetitive strain injuries?

When looking at injuries that have occurred over a period of time, we're also seeing a downward trend in the number of notifications. Whilst these are lower frequency claims, we still saw a 29%** decrease in the number of notifications between the same time period as above. Again, this could have been because of workplaces being closed. Claimant solicitors may also have struggled to gather evidence and records to present a claim in the first place due to lockdown restrictions.

Looking at employers liability claims overall, the most manual handling claims are made against clients in the Industrial sector, with manufacturing and distribution businesses being most affected.* Employees in this sector tend to carry out manual handling duties everyday so can also be more exposed to the repetitive injuries seen over time. Whilst we would typically see these types of claims in this industry pre-pandemic, we anticipate there may be an increase if staff shortages mean employees are working more shifts with less rotation, due to colleagues on furlough or self-isolating for example.

Emerging risks

As businesses continue to adapt following the easing of restrictions, it’s inevitable that demand for products and services will increase. Staff shortages linked to the pandemic and to Brexit, particularly in the delivery driver space, are already being reported so with this potential increase in staff turnover and new recruits into this type of role, an increase in manual handling related injuries due to lack of training could be on the cards. This is in addition to any existing employees who may be being brought back into the business following furlough and who could have forgotten some of the processes they were initially trained in.

How can you minimise the exposure?

From a risk management point of view, our recent guide to Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) and manual handling highlights a number of simple measures that can be put in place to minimise the potential for injury relating to this type of work. There are also some key actions employers can take to help manage the impact of any claims which are made; the main one being preservation of evidence. This means documenting any training for new recruits or refresher training for existing staff who have been absent from the business and maintaining thorough records of any updated risk assessments carried out to reflect changing environments or roles. Being able to demonstrate that you have delivered the required training on manual handling procedures will be vital should a liability claim be made. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Listen to employees if they're making complaints about their working processes/practices and document the actions taken. It may be that small alterations at an early stage can stop a claim being made further down the line.
  • It's vital that risk assessments carried out for a particular job capture all of the possible risks of upper limb disorders occurring. It's also important that when a role changes, the risk assessment is updated to reflect the change, e.g. if someone leaves and another employee’s workload increases as a result. That increase in workload could act as a trigger and lead to the development of an Upper Limb Disorder.
  • Early communication and engagement with insurers is so important. Having access to the correct personnel to interview and, where possible, access to workspaces to view the job being carried out, e.g. on a production line, is vital.

Visit our risk management site for more guidance on protecting your staff in the workplace.

*Figures based on Aviva claims data between Sept 2019 and Sept 2020

** Figures based on data from Pro-Global (our outsourced handler for this type of claim) between Sept 2019- Sept 2020