Minimising manual handling injuries
If you’re hearing workers complain of soreness after a particular task, that’s an indicator that you need to assess the risks of manual handling in your workplace.
In Queensland, more than 50% of workers compensation claims are related to musculoskeletal disorders, which are often referred to as MSDs, sprains and strains.
Musculoskeletal injuries caused by handling objects most often affect the back, shoulder/upper arm and wrist/lower arm — and the majority of MSDs sustained by workers are preventable.
To reduce injury, increase productivity and improve workers’ health and wellbeing, it is recommended that you engage with your workers to identify hazardous manual tasks, assess the risks, identify controls and monitor their suitability.
Businesses such as the Laminex Group have found that by implementing a risk management system to achieve their primary focus of reducing injuries, they also realised productivity gains and cost efficiencies.
The Laminex Group invited its workers, occupational health and safety coordinator and warehouse supervisors to identify the risk level for every manual handling task. All tasks were logged in a spreadsheet and ranked in order — from the most difficult and risky manual tasks to the simplest and least risky tasks.
This allowed the group to implement control measures, such as an automated strapping machine that could remove 80% of manual strapping from its warehouse and eliminate hundreds of thousands of manual tasks each year.
The Laminex Group learnt that its workers often come up with the best solutions because they have firsthand knowledge and experience of the tasks.
What are hazardous manual handling risks?
Not all manual handling tasks are hazardous, but the risk factors that cause manual handling injuries include:
- repetitive movement, sustained or awkward postures and high or sudden force;
- repetitive or sustained force;
- long duration; and
When determining whether a task poses a risk, consider the following factors:
- Repetitive movement or repetitive or sustained forces make a manual task hazardous and can cause muscular stress. ‘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.
- Long duration means the task is done for more than a total of two hours over a whole shift or continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time.
- High force is exerted when large loads, relative to the body part doing the activity, are placed on muscles or other tissues. Indicators of a high-force activity may include when a worker describes a task as physically demanding or needs help to do it, or where a normally one-handed task requires two hands. Sudden force occurs when there is a rapid increase or decrease in muscular effort. Examples of this include jarring, jerky or unexpected movements.
- Risk of injury from vibration increases as the duration of exposure increases and when the amplitude of vibration is high. For example, using powered hand tools for a long period of time may place a worker at risk of injury.
How to control the manual handling risk
Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. If this is not practicable, then minimise the risk as far as possible. To develop control ideas, identify the source of the risk and then determine what things about the source of risk you could change. The main sources of risk are:
- work area design and layout
- the nature, size, weight or number of things handled in performing the manual task
- systems of work; and
- the environment in which the manual task is performed.
To implement the most effective controls, you should:
- start at the top of the hierarchy of control;
- allow workers to trial controls and give their feedback before decisions are made to make them permanent;
- develop work procedures to ensure that controls are understood and responsibilities are clear;
- communicate the reasons for the change to workers and others;
- ensure that any equipment used in the manual task is properly maintained; and
- provide training to ensure workers can competently implement the risk controls. Training should include information about manual tasks risk management; specific manual tasks risks and how to control them; the use of mechanical aids, tools, equipment and safe work procedures; and how to report a problem or maintenance issue.
Remember: training in lifting techniques must not be the sole or primary means to control the risk of MSDs.
Control measures that have been implemented must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised to make sure they work as planned and to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
You should review control measures:
- when the control measure is no longer effective;
- before a change that is likely to give risk to a new or different risk;
- if a new hazard is identified;
- if consultation indicates a review is necessary; and
- if a health and safety representative requests a review.
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