Manual Handling Is An Important OH&S Consideration

Manual tasks across all industries commonly cause injuries. Manual task safety is more than just keeping your back straight and knees bent, or lifting properly – it includes tasks such as carrying, pushing and pulling, and holding or restraining.


Manual tasks involve more than just lifting, and the risk of injury is due to more than just the weight of the object being handled. Factors such as awkward movements, fixed postures and how long and how quickly a task is performed are also important.


Injuries can be the result of gradual wear and tear from frequent or prolonged activities, or sudden damage. For example, an injury can result from repetitive lifting or a single lift of something very heavy or awkward to handle, or from tripping and falling while carrying an object.


Jobs involving physical stress or repetitive movements have the highest rates of injuries – over half the lost-time injuries involving nurses and health care workers, cleaners, packers and store people are manual task injuries.


Remember these important facts about manual task-related injuries.


Increased weight equals increased risk. People differ so it is difficult to define what an unsafe weight is. But if you find a manual task difficult or strenuous, it may be a significant risk for you. Discomfort can be an early warning sign, especially if it persists, reoccurs the next day or persists after the weekend.


The risk is not just about weight. Often the risk is due to a combination of the weight and your posture, such as bending forward, and movements such as holding the load away from the body or twisting, as well as the shape or configuration of the load.


Manual tasks can cause gradual wear and tear to the body. This damage can build up over time.


Where repetitive movements or fixed or awkward postures are concerned, the risk of injury is cumulative. Regardless of how many different tasks a worker performs each day, a significant risk of injury can be present if the total time spent performing similar postures, actions or movements exceeds one hour.

While these risk factors can make identifying manual task hazards difficult, the more risk factors present, the greater the scope for decreasing the risk.


Consultation between workers, health and safety representatives  – this is an important part of the risk management process to identify hazards before an injury occurs, and to develop measures to eliminate or reduce the associated risks. Consultation should include asking about which manual tasks may lead to physical strain, talking to supervisors about any difficulties that staff experience carrying out manual tasks, and talking to health and safety representatives about problems they are aware of.


Look at tasks – carry out workplace inspections, observe the manual tasks and identify any relevant contributing factors e.g. slippery floors, work station not at the correct height.


Collecting information – check injury/hazard reports, ask other people in the workplace and examine the tasks. By doing this, you can collect information on the tasks performed, the age and sex distribution of those injured through manual handling, occupation, department or section of those injured or involved in manual tasks, geographical location where the injury or complaint occurred, and the type of injury.


Looking for trends – from the collected information, identify trends or common problems. These trends will help to determine which tasks pose a more serious problem than others.

Then, a risk assessment should be undertaken to determine level of risk and appropriate controls, giving us the opportunity to discuss issues and negotiate suitable arrangements for reducing manual task injuries.


Some of the controls that could be used are:

  • modifying workplace layout and equipment – use lifting aids
  • modifying the load – redistribute or reduce the weight
  • controlling the work environment – like floor coverings, heat, light and space
  • redesigning the work patterns – change the duration and type of tasks done
  • making sure everyone has general and task specific training on correct lifting techniques

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