What is Manual Handling?

Manual handling is a commonly used phrase, particularly at work. This guide from DeltaNet explains what it actually means, where it is relevant, and the regulations in place to reduce the risks of manual handling injuries.

Manual handling is the process of an individual moving or supporting something without the use of a machine to help them. This could mean lifting something, putting something down, or pushing, pulling, and carrying something.

The nature of how things are moved means that there can be potential risks involved depending on the weight of things, and how the body is used to handle them. These risks come predominantly in the form of injuries to the back, which is why it is such an important topic to be aware of. 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 together are two movements that are perhaps the greatest strain on the spine.

Not all manual handing is hazardous, but in some cases the individual may have to take on a considerable amount of handing such as lifting something heavy above their shoulders – this is when injuries can happen.

Where does Manual Handling Occur?

A third of all accidents reported to the Health and Safety Authorities are manual handling incidents, with half of these injuries occurring due to someone lifting or carrying a load. This means that one million people are year are affected, costing society £5.7 billion in the process.

Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes damage to the individual’s back, otherwise known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). If an action is carried out without following correct procedure, such as picking up something heavy without bending your knees to reach it, then injuries occur.

Manual handling injuries can happen anywhere people are at work – on farms and building sites, in factories, offices, warehouses, hospitals, banks, laboratories, and out-and-about whilst making deliveries. Heavy manual labour, awkward postures, manual materials handling, and previous or existing injuries are all risk factors in developing MSDs.

Tina Bowen

Tina was a kitchen worker at a school in Wales until she was left in agony after repeatedly lifting sacks of potatoes onto a trolley.

The potato peeling machine in the school kitchen had been broken for a long period of time, because of this she had to use a machine at a different school. This caused her to have to manually lift the heavy sacks of potatoes onto a trolley and push them across a car park. Then once they had been peeled by the machine, she had to load the potatoes back onto the trolley and take them back to her school to be cooked.

One particular day, Tina felt severe pain in her left shoulder and back. She was then off work for six months, during which time she lost vital earnings and struggled to complete even the most simple day-to-day tasks.

“I can barely describe how unbearable the pain was during those six months. My movement was so restricted that I could hardly even dress myself. I wish that the management had fixed the potato peeler earlier or provided me with a safe alternative; this could all have been avoided.”

Regulations in Place

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations of 1992 are the predominant rules in place for employers to follow when it comes to workplace safety, specifically manual handling. They create a standardised guide for businesses so that risks can be managed to maintain a healthy workforce.

They stress three key words – avoid, assess, and reduce. Their ranking systems help measure the risks from manual handling for employers to follow:

• First: Avoid hazardous manual handling operations as much as is reasonably practicable
• Second: Assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
• Third: Reduce the risk of injury as much as is reasonably practicable

These guidelines are aimed at employers, managers and safety representatives to help them avoid, assess and reduce the risk of injury from manual handling. It is therefore expected that they need to make sure they are following the MHOR closely to ensure the safety of their team.

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