Ergonomics perspectives on personal injury litigation


Friday 20 June 2014


John Ridd


This webinar will address the sequence of events in the UK that might precede, and then accompany, a claim for damages from an employer for an injury that has been, or is perceived to have been, caused by an employee's work activity. By considering anonymised examples from previous (concluded) litigation cases in the office sector, John will attempt to highlight the difficulties and pitfalls that often arise for the employer, and which in many cases could have been avoided.


John is a consulting Ergonomist specialising in work and workplace design in relation to musculoskeletal disorders. He worked previously for the Robens Institute at the University of Surrey for over 20 years, qualified as an applied physiologist, and has since worked extensively in ergonomics research and consultancy, particularly in the areas of manual handling and office ergonomics.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (IEHF), a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health and a Fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. He is included on the UK Register of Expert Witnesses.

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Q: Don't you mean psychological report, not psychiatric?

A: Absolutely!

Q: Good afternoon! A question on DSE and the user...if a member of staff works 1 day out of 5 in an office and on a PC, under the Regs they fall out of being a DSE user, yet for the 1 day they are sat at the PC nearly 85%. Would they be a DSE user under the Regs? I feel 'yes' but the manager says 'no'.

A: It is for the employer to make that judgement based on the Guidance at paragraph 18 of the HSE’s L23 document, and to defend it if necessary.

Q: Is this the same for Scotland?

A: Although the manner in which the Courts operate is somewhat different, the job of the technical expert in these cases is largely the same. However, rather than having the parties’ separate cases presented as the ‘Particulars of Claim’ and the ‘Defence’, a document called the ‘Record’ presents all the arguments.

Q: How do companies protect themselves with staff using iPads, iPhones PDA's etc? DSE Regs do not cover theses items.

A: If the employer allows, or facilitates the use of, these devices for their work, then these would be subject to the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, although many of the same principles behind the use of any screen based activity would apply for good practice.

Q: Within our organisation we have hot-desking arrangements. We have completed a DSE, however is it the employers responsibility to ensure a new DSE is completed each time the employee is at a new work station? Also some employees require foot stools for support, but they can not carry this around with them wherever they go. Any advice?

A: The requirement is to carry out an assessment of the workstation (even though there is no specified user) to include consideration of the needs of all who are likely to use it – this inevitably means that the hot-desking workstation must have considerable in-built adjustability, and be suitable for all the types of work activities to be carried out there. It is also essential that training of the potential users should include how to adjust the workstation to their personal needs.

Q: What is the role that psychosocial factors play in litigation cases? Are they considered by the ergonomists in their reports?

A: Psychosocial factors are a significant and increasingly important aspect of workplace litigation, and all the more reason to examine the numerous factors that contribute to this, and which can make the reporting of musculoskeletal problems more prevalent; these are therefore addressed in the ergonomics reports, though they are not easy to illustrate in a PowerPoint presentation. In my experience, the majority of cases that go to litigation do involve significant psychosocial elements.