A Ministry of Defence (MoD) Stores Assistant who suffered a serious back injury due to continuous heavy lifting and whose employer then failed to shift her to lighter work has received £60,000 in compensation. Ms Karen Coulthard, 45, of Longtown, Carlisle, in Cumbria, brought the claim with the help of her union, GMB Northern, and Thompsons Solicitors.

In May 2002, Ms Coulthard injured her back at work and was in so much pain and discomfort that she was off work for several weeks. Upon returning to work, Ms Coulthard’s GP provided a letter to her employer to say that she should only be placed on light duties as heavy lifting would aggravate her back injury. This advice was supported by the MoD’s own Occupational Health Physician. Nevertheless, Ms Coulthard was returned to heavy lifting duties by her employer despite the medical advice presented.

Medically Retired

She continued to do the same job and was eventually put on light duties in October 2004. In January 2006, Ms Coulthard was again put back on heavy lifting duties and, again, another letter from her GP advised against this type of work. In May 2006, Ms Coulthard fell sick and she never returned, being medically retired in 2007.

Commenting, Ms Coulthard said: “Returning to work after my initial back injury, I did not go onto lighter duties and was not supervised in relation to the further management of my back condition. I simply got on with my job because I didn’t think there was anything I could do and did not report further to Occupational Health. No-one appeared to care about my situation, despite the problems I was experiencing.

“The pain became gradually worse. Despite treatment, I continue to have a constant dull ache in my lower back and groin area and intermittent sharp pains in my back and groin. I have some difficulty standing, walking and sitting for long periods of time, and many tasks that I would have easily performed before are very difficult.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to Thompsons Solicitors and to Linda Redhead specifically for their support in helping me to bring this case.”

Employers need a safe system of manual handling operations

Helen Marshall, GMB Northern senior organiser, said: “It doesn’t matter if you’re injured in work or outside of it, if your employer is aware that you have a medical condition they need to take responsibility to ensure that you are not in any danger of making things worse. In this case Ms Coulthard did everything she could to alert her employer, but clearly her cries for help were falling on deaf ears.”

Ms Coulthard’s representative at Thompsons Solicitors, Linda Redhead, said: “Ms Coulthard’s employer produced no evidence of any safe system of manual handling operations. She spent each day lifting very heavy boxes – often between 480-600, containing items such as spent munitions and other pieces of heavy metal. It was clearly an unsafe system of work, made worse by the fact that the MoD appeared to ignore the medical advice of her GP on more than one occasion.”