Hazardous manual task risks: 4 management steps
WorkCover Queensland (WorkCover Qld) have released a four-step guide to managing hazardous manual task risks in the workplace that is intended to help reduce the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In the guide, WorkCover Qld set out that in controlling exposure to health and safety risks associated with hazards in the workplace, risk management is a four-step process of: hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and review of control measures.
Step 1: Hazard identification
The first step in the process of managing hazardous manual task risks in the workplace involves identifying the common hazards that can lead to MSDs. These hazards relate both to the task itself, such as risks of overexertion and awkward postures that can cause strain, as well as environmental factors, such as machinery and equipment, as well as the dangers of falling objects.
To assist in identifying manual task-related hazards, the guide suggests:
- inspecting the workplace — inclusive of the physical work environment and work processes;
- creating lists of any hazards identified during inspection — inclusive of known hazards already under review;
- consulting with workers — to ensure a comprehensive record of hazards and offer an opportunity for the reporting of any discomfort being experienced;
- reviewing any extant documentation — looking especially for any trends from injury and incident records and workers compensation claims;
- consulting resources available within your jurisdiction — such as from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland or relevant industry bodies.
Once a comprehensive hazard identification process has been completed, the next step is to conduct a risk assessment.
Step 2: Risk assessment
According to WorkCover Qld, the purpose of a risk assessment is to examine the characteristics of any manual tasks identified as hazardous in order to “assess whether the forces, movements and postures undertaken by the worker increase their risk of MSD”. Such an assessment should be carried out for all manual tasks flagged as hazardous, with the exception of those where the risk, and the means of controlling the risk, is well known.
The benefit of a risk assessment is that it can assist organisations in determining which particular postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk, where exactly in the completion of the task these risks present, why these risks may be occurring and possible means of overcoming the risks.
The questions to be asked in completing the risk assessment stage include: Are repetitive movements or sustained, awkward postures involved in the completion of tasks? And does the task involve high or sudden force, a long duration or vibration. WorkCover Qld have a ‘Hazardous manual tasks risk management worksheet’ that can be used as part of this step.
When you have completed your risk assessment, it is time to devise and implement controls for the identified risks.
Step 3: Risk control
In listing your controls for the identified risks, rank these in accordance with a ‘hierarchy of control’ — those controls with the highest level of protection come first. Remember that the aim must always be to eliminate the hazard, as this constitutes the most effective control measure.
As part of its hierarchy of control, WorkCover Qld nominates three key levels: level 1 (elimination), level 2 (substitution, isolation and engineering) and level 3 (administrative and personal protective equipment). At the first level, elimination controls may include automation options that remove the need for the manual task or improved delivery methods that mean goods do not need to be handled manually.
At the second level: substitution controls might include the replacement of heavy items with lighter alternatives; isolation controls could involve separating machinery from its user, such as through independent seating on a mobile plant; and engineering controls could involve the assistance of mechanical lifting aids or height-adjustable workstations.
Finally, at the third level are administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. Administrative controls might include worker rotation or the avoidance of peak physical and mental tasks towards the end of shifts. PPE examples include shock-absorbent footwear for work performed on concrete surfaces and heat-resistant gloves for hot items handling.
The final step in WorkCover Qld’s guide to managing hazardous manual tasks is to undertake a review of control measures.
Step 4: Review of control measures
The final review step is critical, as it allows for the assessment of any control measures, together with the opportunity to revise the measures if necessary. WorkCover Qld advises that control measures should be reviewed if: a measure is no longer effective, change is taking place that is likely to create a new or different risk, new hazards are identified, consultative processes suggest a review is necessary or a health and safety representative requests a review.
WorkCover Qld also advises that records of the risk management process should be maintained in order to demonstrate compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act and regulations. More information on this guide together with related resources is available from the WorkCover Qld website.
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