When lowering and raising loads, as well as pushing, pulling and carrying, the risk of injuries is affected by a number of factors including:
- The weight of the object(s).
- How far the objects are carried.
- Any height difference when the objects are picked up and put down.
- The frequency of these lifting tasks or operations.
- Whether these movements involve any difficult postures such as bending, stretching or twisting.
Importantly, these risks are present whether the load is moved manually, or using purpose-designed lifting equipment.
Bad practices can lead to an acute manual handling injury, a type of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) and responsible for around a third of all injuries which occur in the workplace. In contrast, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is another workplace-related injury and an MSD, though chronic in its nature. It is caused mainly by repeated limb actions over a long period.
As part of the Health and Safety regulatory regime, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) require that employers manage the risks that are caused to employees by lifting and manual handling. In particular, hazardous operations must be avoided and risks minimised whenever it is possible to do so – by redesigning the task, mechanising or automating the process. Options may include using hoists or sack trolleys and a workflow that maximises the use of ergonomic principles to maintain safety.
Additionally, if the task cannot be avoided, an appropriate injury risk assessment is to be carried out by a competent person and documented accordingly. Various tools are available from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) to analyse manual handling tasks, as well as upper limb repetition and pushing or pulling movements.
Recommended safety practices when moving objects include ensuring that there is adequate space at the proposed destination. For larger loads and occasional tasks, attention to detail is equally – if not more – important. Maintaining the correct body posture is essential for safety; the spine should be kept straight with effort coming from the leg muscles (similar to a partial squat exercise as often seen at the gym) to avoid back injuries. Warn people nearby and have a safety person present to accompany the load. If the weight exceeds the recommended limit(s), request forklift assistance and a qualified, authorised operator.
All employees should receive general health and safety training courses and be informed of any weight limits that apply to manual handling operations. Managers, directors, and business owners are responsible for Health & Safety compliance and may wish to check that employees are familiar with best working practices, especially in relation to lifting and manual handling.
Finally, keeping staff informed of their personal and collective responsibilities not only helps to avoid accidents or injuries but also reduces the possibility of legal claims for negligence. Some companies remind staff periodically and include health and safety updates on company notice boards, websites and training handouts or manuals. If your business holds site safety meetings, these are also a useful forum to update staff and issue reminders at regular intervals.