UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, is demanding that employers do more to prevent back injuries, by giving staff proper training and carrying out rigorous risk assessments.

Back injuries are one of the most common causes of workplace injury and employers lose millions of pounds in lost working days and in compensation each year. 

The call comes as a sports centre supervisor received £50,000 in compensation after he was forced to retire when he injured his back lifting a faulty set of swimming pool steps.

UNISON member David Barber, from Rochdale, who had worked at the council-run sports centre for 20 years, had complained about the steps a number of times, but had been told that fixing them was not a priority.

Despite his pain and injury, David was then made to carry out further lifeguard training at Heywood Sports Centre.

Mr Barber will be in constant pain for the rest of his life

The 62-year-old is currently being cared for by his wife and will have to endure epidural injections and constant pain for the rest of his life.

Mr Barber was off work for four months following his injury and when he returned in June 2004 he had to take painkillers to get through the day.

The former armed forces worker, who has been stationed around the world, was forced to retire when his back was further aggravated in October 2004, while taking part in on-the-job training to renew his life guarding examination.

Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, who runs the centre, did not admit liability, but settled the claim after proceedings were issued.

Training should be put in place to prevent these type of injuries

Heather Wakefield, UNISON’s Head of Local Government, said:

“Mr Barber has not just lost a job he loved, he has also lost his independence.

“The council has lost a dedicated member of staff because they failed to listen to his warnings over health and safety.

“Back injuries are preventable and yet they are one of the most common forms of injury amongst workers and millions of pounds are awarded in compensation each year.

“It would make sense for employers to listen to staff and put training in place to prevent these type of injuries.

“Employers must comply with their duties under the Manual Handling regulations and carry out proper risk assessments, or risk paying the price.

“We also want the authorities to enforce the legislation, which would help to provide a deterrent to employers.”

Compensation awarded for injury

Mr Barber said:

“We all think, ‘it’ll never happen to me’, but the future you have mapped out can change overnight.

“The worst thing about the injury has been going from being hugely active to unable to do the gardening, or drive, or travel easily – it’s that loss of independence.

“Taking up the case was never about the money, it was about fighting for my integrity.

“And I didn’t want to see anybody else have to go through what I have.

“I did not want to retire now and I still try to stay as busy as possible, helping out with cases for the British Legion and the local regimental museum.

“But I can never give any task 100 per cent, as I remain in constant pain and will have to have epidural injections for the rest of my life.

“I am over the moon that UNISON helped me win justice.”

Phil Kyte, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: 

“This was a long and difficult case to fight but we are pleased we have been able to settle this case for Mr Barber who, as a result of his injuries, will no longer be able to work up until retirement age. 

“His accident has left him in constant pain and unable to live the full life he had before. 

“We hope this compensation can go some way to helping him and his wife in the future.”