A school has succeeded in fighting off a £50,000 damages claim brought by a recently recruited teaching assistant who blamed chronic back and shoulder injuries on the strain of pushing wheelchair-dependent pupils between classes.
The woman had been working at the school for only about three weeks when she damaged her back whilst moving a disabled schoolgirl. Her lawyers argued that the incident was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ after successive days of strain. She was left with lasting damage to her back and shoulder so severe that she was unable to lift her right arm above shoulder height.
She argued that the school had failed to carry out a thorough risk assessment or provide comprehensive training in the task of pushing children in wheelchairs. It was submitted that the school should have done more to test the weight of disabled children – including the combined weight of child and wheelchair – and should have considered providing powered wheelchairs.
However, the woman’s claim was dismissed by a judge, who exonerated the school’s governors. In dismissing her challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal noted, “When all is said and done, the safe pushing of manual wheelchairs is not a difficult or complex matter.”
There was evidence that learning support assistants were given specific instructions on how to safely perform a number of manual tasks, including pushing wheelchairs, at the start of their employment. The school had taken all appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable.