A 51 year old man who worked at the Chester Le Street Youth Centre has been awarded £33,750 from Durham County Council in compensation for a back injury caused by putting away a deflated bouncy castle. The compensation was secured with the support of his union Unison and its solicitors, Thompsons.

In March 2002, community education worker Dean Gibbon was required to put away a deflated bouncy castle from the gymnasium into an adjacent storeroom. Working alone, he lifted one end of the rolled up bouncy castle onto a trolley and when attempting to lift the other end, the load moved causing injury to his lower back.

The Judge found that Durham County Council was in breach of Manual Handling Regulations and was negligent because it had failed to adopt the system that had been detailed in an earlier memo which stated that the moving of the castle should never be done alone. This instruction was also supported by a health and safety risk assessment.

Working alone and lifting heavy object

Dean Gibbon claimed that on that day he was working alone, there was no-one available to help him and that the bouncy castle was normally put away by one person. His case was supported by his girlfriend and former fellow employee who stated that they had seen other employees at the centre put away the bouncy castle alone and that this was the accepted practice.

The trial held at Newcastle Upon Tyne County Court in January 2006, focused on whether or not Mr Gibbon's version of events was accurate and whether this accident actually took place at all. The Defendants - Durham County Council - were straightforward in their defence that this accident either did not happen or did not happen in the way that Mr Gibbon described.

They relied upon a letter that had been sent to Mr Gibbon on the same day as the accident which indicated that he was to be subject to a disciplinary hearing due to his poor timekeeping and sickness. The council claimed that it was this disciplinary matter that led to the invention of this accident and the subsequent period of sickness. However, the Judge found that there was no doubt that Mr Gibbon suffered an injury and there was nothing in the evidence provided to show that he was dishonest or that the accident did not happen in the way described by him.

Suffered pain and lost earnings

Michael Bray from Thompsons Solicitors in South Shields, comments: "Employers can't expect to expose employees to unacceptable risks at work and then refuse to support them when injuries occur. While compensation can never make up for the difficulties Dean has faced, we are very pleased with the outcome of the case."

Dean Gibbon comments: "I am so pleased to be vindicated at last. I was simply following normal procedures for putting away the bouncy castle as I had observed others doing. I have suffered a lot of pain and loss of earnings and this compensation will certainly help to get me back on track."

Gill Hale, UNISON's Regional Secretary added: "We welcome the settlement but money alone can never compensate for the loss of health or the loss of a career. Employers need to be aware that wherever the health and safety of workers is put at risk, UNISON will pursue claims for members and their families."