The Importance of Addressing Health and Safety at Work – Lawyer Monthly | Legal News Magazine

The Importance of Addressing Health and Safety at Work

Ergonomics, also known as Human Factors, is concerned with the human in the system. Ergonomists apply knowledge of people’s characteristics to enhance their productivity, effectiveness, well-being and safety. In the context of civil law, safety is the primary concern and ergonomics experts report on the risks from industrial tasks involving repetitive movements, mental stress, applying forces or handling loads. In the criminal courts, we might consider biomechanics – for example: could the accused exert such a force from such a position?

In his role as Director, Dave Usher provides guidance and technical analysis, but also spends plenty of time assuring that our deliverables achieve the three Cs, to be: Clear, Concise and Correct.


What are common reasons employers are sent to Court, in relation to ergonomics?

I think the most common failure of employers is in relation to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations.  Handling, lifting or carrying things causes most non-fatal injuries in the workplace.

The guidance published by the Health and Safety Executive is very clear, but still employers misunderstand their responsibilities.  Risk assessments need not be complex, but must be done thoroughly and meaningfully. For example, I often see risks described as ‘low’ or ‘medium’ without any indication of what these terms mean.


What do you think employers often dismiss the importance of, in relation to the geometry and layout of workstations? How can this ignorance lead to legal sanctions?

Employers should be willing to recognise that risks do not remain the same.  As time goes by, the musculoskeletal system will both be more susceptible to injury and will have accumulated more wear and tear. This raises the risk of Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders – or RSI as it’s known – particularly in women. Ensuring the workstation geometry reflects the anthropometry of the user should help.


When would you personally advise an individual to seek legal action for personal injury?

From an ergonomics perspective, a claim is more likely to be successful if there is a clear link from the injury to a breach of the guidance provided by the Health and Safety Executive.


What challenges do you face when instructed as an Expert Witness? What could legal experts do to reduce any challenge you may face?

One challenge is to remain within the scope of the discipline. There is difference of opinion even between ergonomists regarding, for example, whether the rate of progression of a medical condition is a matter of ergonomics.

Another of the challenges is to remain free from bias. If you are instructed by the claimant there is a temptation to say that the defendant should have reduced the risks – since that can almost always be done somehow – even if they are already very low. Then there is ‘hindsight bias’, where the occurrence of the injury makes its probability seem greater.

I strongly support the movement towards commissioning a single joint expert rather than a report from each party followed by a joint statement.


How have you seen safety in the workplace change over the years of practice? How has this changed your line of work?

I think workplaces are nowadays much safer. It’s rare to come across obvious hazards at a site inspection. The sort of problems we find now are more to do with organisational culture – workers’ complaints being ignored or injuries not being recorded.

Also, funding for personal injury claims has become more difficult to obtain, which has made solicitors more cautious about engaging a medical expert witness as well as an ergonomist.


Dave Usher
mobile: 07747 686162
Interaction of Bath, 42 Milsom St, Bath, BA1 1DY, UK
tel: +44 (0)1225 482882


Dave Usher is Managing Director and principal consultant at Interaction of Bath. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors and holds a BSc and DPhil in Physics.

Dave founded the company in 1991, based on his experience in the field of human-machine interaction. Since then he has carried out ergonomics work across most industrial sectors. This strong technical background helps him carry out a large variety of ergonomics work across most industrial sectors. Dave is particularly interested in human error analysis and ergonomics for older people.

Interaction of Bath is an ergonomics consultancy established in 1991. We offer the full range of ergonomics services to organisations of all types. I believe this breadth of reach and depth of experience are valuable to our legal work in giving us an anchor in the real world for our opinions regarding credible risk assessment techniques and the foreseeability of injury.

We are registered with the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, the Society of Expert Witnesses and the Association of Professional Injury Lawyers.  Our certification to ISO 9001:2015 ensures quality, completeness and traceability in all our activities.


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