Almost every workplace involves performing some sort of manual handling task to get the job done. Moving stationary supplies in an office, stacking shelves in a supermarket or carting a wheelbarrow on a job site might not seem like a particularly dangerous task, when performed incorrectly or with poor technique, manual tasks like these can become hazardous and cost businesses big bucks.
According to Safe Work Australia, manual handling injuries are the most common work-related condition in the country with 90% of serious claims being due to injury and musculoskeletal disorders. This can include sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons, back injuries or soft tissue injuries. With the median time lost for injury and musculoskeletal disorder claims reaching 5.1 working weeks, it’s clear that eliminating and minimising the risks associated with manual handling tasks needs to be a top priority for businesses.
Management of the risks associated with manual handling tasks comes with a variety of benefits. Not only does managing hazards ensure compliance with WHS laws and safety of workers, it also has the added benefit of increasing productivity and reducing overall costs.
Below is a video by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland illustrating the cost to businesses that manual handling injuries can have, and how businesses across various industries are identifying and managing them.
Not all manual tasks are classified as hazardous. For a task to be hazardous it needs to involve any of the following characteristics:
– Repetitive or sustained force (as a guideline, ‘repetitive’ means that a movement or force is performed more than twice a minute, and ‘sustained’ means a posture or force is held for more than 30 seconds at a time)
– Repetitive movement
– Sustained or awkward postures (‘awkward posture’ means the body is uncomfortable or in an unnatural position)
– High or sudden force
– Exposure to vibration
Hazardous tasks can be identified by speaking to employees about muscular aches or pains, observing employees performing manual tasks and reviewing records of workplace injuries and assessments.
Once hazardous manual tasks in the workplace have been identified, the next step is to assess whether the actions involved increase the risk of a manual handling injury. Typical factors that can increase the risk of injury and should be considered include the:
– Type of work- working in a fixed position for an extended period of time can increase injury
– Layout of space- a poorly designed workspace can cause employees to practice poor manual handling practices such as twisting
– Weight of object
– Location of object- above shoulder height or below knee level may have to be lifted awkwardly
– Duration of task
– Awkward loads
After identification and assessment, the next step is to control risk. This can be done in a variety of ways recommend by Safe Work Australia and include:
Change the task- ask “does this task need to be carried out? If so, does it have to be done this way?”
Change the object– for example, repack a heavy load into smaller parcels
Change the workspace– for example, use ergonomic furniture and make sure work benches are at optimum heights to limit bending or stretching
Change the environmental conditions– including heat, cold and vibration
Use mechanical aids– such as wheelbarrows, conveyor belts, cranes or forklifts
Change the nature of the work– for example, offer frequent breaks or the chance to do different tasks
Offer proper training– inexperienced workers are more likely to be injured
It’s important to regularly review measures in place and identify whether hazards are being addressed or if new issues are arising. Reducing manual handling injuries in an ongoing process and one that should take into account changes in the workplace.
Key actions to ensure risk management controls remain effective include:
– Creating accountability and ensuring managers and supervisors are provided with the authority and resources to implement and maintain control measures
– Maintenance of equipment
– Up to date training and competency- in particular, new workers need to be appropriately trained
– Up to date hazard information provided to employees