Manual handling might not seem high risk but the fact is a third of all workplace injuries reported to the Health Service Authorities (HSA) are caused by manual handling activities, and those injuries are a leading cause of work disability (HSA Website). Consequently, safe manual handling techniques can mean the difference between a productive day at work or being off work with a bad back or musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
Manual handling isn’t always a hazard to your employees. But if your workforce has to lift heavy objects regularly (or occasionally) you must establish your manual handling policies to lower the risk of an employee suffering injuries.
What is manual handling?
Manual handling is an everyday task in most workplaces, whether you are serving food at a restaurant, stacking shelves in a shop, laboring at a building site or lifting toys at a creche. Tools, equipment, produces and supplies all have to be lifted, moved and carried daily.
When you move, carry, lift, push or pull something, you are manual handling. If you carry a book, a box, a tool or material, you are manual handling. At times this may be achieved with very little effort but sometimes it might be trickier, for example, due to its size or weight.
The Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Regulations 2007 (part four, chapter two) provide an outline for manual handling. Regulation 68 goes on to define manual handling:
any transporting or supporting of a load by one or more employees and includes lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving a load, which, by reasons of its characteristics or of unfavorable ergonomic conditions, involves risk, particularly of back injury, to employees
Why do you need to learn this?
I have often been asked questions such as; ‘Do I really need to spend a day being told how to lift up a box?’, ‘why is manual handling so important, sure we do this every day’, ‘why is manual handling such a big health and safety issue?’
The answer is simple, when manual handling goes wrong, people get hurt and this happens far more often that you might think. In fact, in the health service alone in 2010 manual handling accounted for 34% of reported incidents. These injuries can have a substantial impact on resources in terms of absenteeism and costs from claims arising from same. (HSA Website)
Whilst manual handling might not be fatal it can cause a lot of pain and the harm can be long-term. It will also have a wider financial and emotional impact on your personal life if you are injured or out of work for a period of time. It could stop you doing the things you love such as playing with your children, going for a run or a swim, tending to your garden, etc.
Manual handling is not just a concern for those who have to carry large or heavy loads, you also have to know how to carry the item correctly to avoid injury.
Importance of safe manual handling
Safe manual handling is important to protect you from the angst, distress and pain that come with MSD’s. Poor lifting techniques, awkward postures, and failure to plan your route will all increase the risk of injury during manual handling tasks.
Legally, employers have a responsibility to ensure that steps are taken to reduce the risks from manual handling. Employers are required to organise the work to allow the use of mechanical or other means to avoid the need for the manual handling of loads by employees in the workplace.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 states that an employer shall
take appropriate organisational measures, or use the appropriate means, in particular mechanical equipment, to avoid the need for the manual handling of loads by the employer’s employees
Safe manual handling techniques have a tendency to focus on the initial lift, and it is vital to get this phase of the process correct. Bent legs, straight back, look forward to align the spine, firm palm grip, load close to the body, drive through the legs to stand. However, safe manual handling should not stop there, it is important to also consider what your carrying, and where you are carrying it to. For example, the heaviest side of the load should be closest to your body to minimise strain when carrying.
Manual handling training and knowing how to lift is a good place to start when practicing safe manual handling. However, no matter how good your technique is, if you try to lift a load that is too heavy for your capabilities, you are at risk of injury.
How to stay safe when manual handling
The first rule of manual handling is to eliminate manual handling if at all possible. There is no safer way to handle something, than to not handle it at all. For example, have materials delivered to their place of use rather than left at the back-entrance door.
It’s not always possible to eliminate manual handling, and often it will be necessary. In this case, and especially if there is a risk of injury, it is important to complete a manual handling risk assessment. This will allow you to assess the task, individual, load and environment (TILE)
Once you have considered the risks and details of the manual handling task in question, you can decide if extra safety measures are needed. For example, a team lift or a mechanical aid.
If your work involves regular manual handling, you should be trained in safe manual handling techniques as part of your employment. However outside of your employment correct manual handling techniques is an essential skill which will serve you well.
Don’t wait for an injury to occur before taking action, do a manual handling course now. Learn correct lifting and carrying techniques, and understand the risks and precautions needed when handling loads.
Donegal Safety Services offer a range of Manual Handling courses including Manual Handling for Childcare and People Movement and Handling.
If you have any questions about at all regarding any of our courses we would be delighted to hear from you. You can contact us by completing our contact form or by email us directly on email@example.com