Manual handling refers to the process of an employee transporting or supporting something. This could mean lifting something, putting something down, pushing, pulling, or carrying something; if something is being moved, it is being manually handled.
The nature of how things can be moved means that it can involve risks in the form of injury to the employee, which is why it is such an important topic for employers to be aware of. Paying close attention to this issue means that you can avoid any potential problems, and keep a fit and healthy workforce as a result.
The manufacturing sector is where the problem remains prominent. The tasks conducted require people to engage in different physical activities to get the work done, one of which is manual handling. Not all manual handing is hazardous, but in some cases the employee may have to take on a considerable amount of handing such as lifting something heavy above shoulder height – these cases are where problems can happen.
Why are there Risks in Manual Handling?
Manual handling incidents account for 33% of all accidents reported to the Health and Safety Authorities every year, with half of these injuries occurring due to someone lifting or carrying something.
Not only are manual handling accidents a hindrance to the individual, as they are left injured and unable to work for a considerable amount of time, but they cause a massive drain on resources for the employers. This is because they have to cover costs towards the days lost, a decrease in productivity, legal fees, and the cost of training or retraining. The manageability and preventability of manual handling means that it represents an opportunity for cost reduction.
These problems can occur in the first place for these five reasons, all areas that can easily be dealt with by employers:
1. No risk assessment of work activities
2. Lack of safe system of work plans
3. Mechanical aids were not provided and maintained
4. Adequate training was not provided
5. No evidence of work supervision
There are certain characteristics that can result in something being seen as risk-prone when it comes to manual handling:
• The lifting of the load requires repeated manipulation of the load at a distance from the individual
• The lifting of the load requires repeated bending of the individual
• The load is very large and difficult to grasp
• The handling repeatedly takes place at floor level or above shoulder height
• The physical effort can only be achieved by a twisting of the individual's body
• The load is carried over a long distance and there is poor organisation leading to an unsafe route with obstacles
Reducing These Risks
The injuries that can come from these manual handling activities are primarily to the back. These repetitive actions that strain the individual over and over again can result in compression of the disc, facet joint or ligaments damage. Twisting and bending are two movements that are perhaps the greatest strain on the spine.
A bad back inevitably isn't something that can go away over time, it can only really get worse, so to avoid it from struggling in the first place, workplace regulations need to be followed. These regulations can govern the management of a hazard in manual handling to avoid employee injuries becoming 'the norm'. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations of 2007 explain what employers need to be doing in relation to manual handling.
The basic principle of the regulation is that if a manual handling activity could involve a risk of injury, the employer must take measures to avoid or reduce this risk. The employer needs to do this by implementing a manual handling risk assessment process and preventative measures based on the outcomes of the risk assessments.
They may do this in the form of having a safe system of work plan for site-specific tasks, providing information on the use of mechanical aids, the reorganisation of a work activity to allow loads to be handled at a safe height, or instructions to workers on how to use handling aids and handle loads safely.
Risk assessments obviously vary between each business, but below is a brief summary of a five-step risk assessment process that can be used to assess individual manual handling tasks.
Step 1: Task description
Collect information on how the task is carried out. Identify the key stages of the task and summarise all information collected.
Step 2: Collect technical information
This means information such as the weight of the load, physical measurements of it, postures observed during the activity, the amount of work space available, the duration of the task, the number of handling activities and the employee's knowledge of a task.
Step 3: Identify the risk factors
This could be that the load is too heavy, it's being handled as an unsafe height, or it causes the body to be in an uncomfortable posture. These risk factors need to be supported with evidence.
Step 4: Identify the Improvements to be put in place
This requires consultation with staff and an objective review of the information collected. The improvements put in place should avoid or at least reduce the risk of injury, and may be a combination of the following:
• Use of mechanical aids for all or part of the activity
• Reorganisation of work area or materials
• Where handling will still take place, instruction in safe lift techniques
• Development of a safe system of work plan
• Communication of improvements to staff
Step 5: Review the Effectiveness of the Improvements
This could involve simple checks or supervision to ensure that lifting techniques are being conducted in line with the instructions given, or that appropriate handling aids are being used.