Manual Handling Risk Assessments Are Crucial to Safe Working Practices

Did you know that approximately one third of all injuries in the workplace that are reported to enforcing authorities are due to incorrect manual handling? These can be avoided if the correct techniques are followed.

Since incorrect manual handling techniques are one of the leading causes of injury in the workplace, it is recommended that all staff be updated at least annually in this area. Any prospective employee should be trained in the correct manual handling procedures and techniques, so that they know how to lift safely with lumbo-pelvic stability and good posture.

Also, it is crucial for employers to perform a Manual Handling Risk Assessment. This is a process that identifies the potential areas of risk within the workplace, so that appropriate measures can be taken to reduce these dangers.

What are the Risks Associated with Manual Handling?

Any particular job that involves heavy labour or a form of manual material handling has a risk for job-related injury. Manual handling injuries can happen anywhere people are at work, including at offices, factories, warehouses, laboratories, hospitals, banks and building sites. Awkward postures, heavy lifting and handling large or awkward materials are the risk factors that contribute to developing MSDs.

The main risk of injury is musculoskeletal disorders, which include sprains and strains to the lower back, upper limbs and shoulders. Also potentially dangerous movements could include maintaining fixed positions for a long time, lifting heavy loads, repetitive motions, bending and twisting. These tasks could cause damage to ligaments, tendons, muscles, blood vessels and nerves.

The human spine is quite delicate when it is moved incorrectly and it is easy to cause injury to parts of the spine including the soft tissue, bones, muscles and discs. Also, exposure to whole body or hand-arm vibration, such as driving a vehicle or operating power machinery, can also cause damage to the musculoskeletal system.

What Does A Manual Handling Risk Assessment Involve?

When you are assessing the manual handling risks, you should look at four specific areas:

  • The Task – Does this activity involve bending, twisting, stooping, pushing, pulling, precise positioning of the load, sudden movement, recovery periods, seated work, team handling or inadequate rest.
  • The Individual – Does the individual in the situation require unusual strength or height in order to carry out the activity? Is the person working on the job pregnant, suffering from a health problem or disabled? Do they have the right specialist knowledge or training for the job?
  • The Load – Is the load that is being carried specifically difficult to grasp, hard to carry, cold, hot, sharp, slippery or likely to move or shift while being carried?
  • The Environment – Does the work environment have any space constraints such as slippery floors, unstable walkways, uneven flooring, hot, cold or humid conditions, poor ventilation, or poor lighting? Are employees wearing any personal protective equipment that restricts their movement?

When you look closely at all of these factors, you will see that there are many considerations to make when you are determining whether a manual handling task is safe.

How Can you Reduce Risks?

First you need to learn how to conduct a risk assessment by attending our dedicated manual handling risk assessment e-learning course. Once you have performed the risk assessment and you have identified the hazards in your particular workplace that are associated with manual handling, the next step is to remove as many of the constraints as possible in order to reduce the risks to a lower level.

First of all, take a close look at the task to see how it can be fitted to the individual. Can a mechanical handling aid be used, such as a simple trolley or a sack truck – or a more complicated aid such as a fork lift truck?

If it is not possible to eliminate the manual handling tasks, you need to find a way to reduce the risks to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable. Here are some important tips that you should keep in mind when you are reducing the dangers of manual handling in the workplace:

  • Make sure that the object you are lifting is lightweight enough for the person to lift safely.
  • Ensure that the object is not likely to shift or move while it is being carried.
  • If possible, a handling aid should be used to move heavy, clumsy or awkward loads.
  • Make sure that the route is clear and free of obstructions.
  • Also, you should determine in advance whether there is somewhere to put the load down where it is being moved to.
  • When lifting any heavy load, the employee should stand as close to the load as possible and spread their feet to shoulder width – bending at the knees and keeping their back straight while they lift.
  • They should grasp the load as close to the body as possible, then use their legs to lift up the load in a smooth motion – which will help to reduce the strain on the back.
  • Feet should be turned toward the load being lifted, to avoid twisting the body and causing strain.
  • Also, carrying the load closer to the body with the elbows tucked in will help to keep balance and avoid injury.

Using Handling Aids

Perhaps during your manual handling risk assessment you have determined that a handling aid will help to make your lifting task easier? There are many different types of aids, from sack trucks to trolleys to wheelbarrows – which can be used to reduce the chance of injury.

It is always better to push rather than pull, so that the body weight and leg muscles can do most of the work. Sometimes using more sophisticated handling aids, such as pallet trucks, hoists, cranes and fork lifts can really come in handy.

However, when you are using handling aids you should consider the health and safety risks that come along with this equipment as well.

With the right techniques, manual handling can be done safely and employees within in your workplace can be protected from serious pain and injury.