GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE
Back injuries and back pain are something that most people suffer during their lifetime. A lot of the time, back injuries happen in the workplace. In fact, according to the HSA manual handling accidents are the most common accidents (2019) and these accidents usually cause back injuries. So, it makes sense for any company to focus on reducing all manual handling risks as much as possible to ensure employees are protected from these unnecessary injuries
What is manual handling? It is the carrying, transporting or manipulation of a load by an employee from one place to another. It involves several activities including pushing, pulling, carrying, throwing and lifting of loads.
Manual handling injuries don’t just occur in occupations that have a high level of lifting (like construction, nursing, factory work) they can easily occur during routine office work.
Employers have a legal obligation (The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work, General Applications Regulations 2007) to protect the health and safety of employees when it comes to the area of manual handling.
The following are the requirements of this specific legislation:
- Manual handling risk assessments should be carried out for all existing manual handling tasks. Once this is done, an informed decision on what can be eliminated or reduced can be made.
- Consider using mechanical means other means to avoid or reduce the need for manual handling by employees. This can include the re-design of a work area or introducing a mechanical aid to eliminate the risk completely.
- Ensure all employees are trained in manual handling and given the relevant instruction for the manual handling tasks that they carry out in their daily work.
Risk factors for injury
There are two factors that must be considered, occupation and non-occupational.
- Repetitive manual handling of materials
- Repetitive heavy lifting, reaching, bending or twisting
- Exposure to continuous whole-body vibration
- Continued static posture
- Poor overall health (lack of exercise, overweight)
- Poor posture
- Psychosocial stressors
Injuries associated with manual handling:
It’s not just the back that can be affected by manual handling. It can affect the neck, upper limbs (shoulder, arm, elbow wrist, fingers), lower limbs (legs, knees, ankles).
Repetitive manual handling or movement that requires force can cause damage to the musculoskeletal system which includes muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, bones, nerves and blood vessels.
Injury can happen suddenly or accumulatively over time due to wear and tear on the body. Examples include muscle strains and sprains, injury to ligaments and discs in the back, injuries to soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, nerves in the wrists, shoulders, arms, legs and chronic pain.
Injuries like this can affect an employee’s ability and the tasks they can perform at work or at home, which in turn will affect their quality of life. It, therefore, is paramount that manual handling risks are taken seriously and managed by carrying out risk assessments and putting in place
How to prevent Manual Handling injuries in the workplace:
As with any hazard, if it is possible to eliminate it, then that is always the best option! However, we live in the real world and that is not always an option. So, like other hazards in the workplace, the first thing to do is to carry out a risk assessment.
You may find it helpful first to create a list of all the manual handling tasks you can think of that are carried out in your workplace. This may take a while but will be well worth doing as from then on, you can just review each risk assessment on a regular basis or when there is a change.
Order of control measures –
- Avoid the need for manual handling or consider alternative ways of working, such as automation like using pallet trucks, trolleys, conveyor belts etc.
- Reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable.
Assessing manual handling:
If you cannot eliminate the hazard, then a manual handling assessment must be carried out. It will help you in assessing the elements of the task and assist in putting controls in place.
The assessment reviews the task, the individual, the load and the environment. The following are the key points to consider while carrying out the risk assessment:
- Task – what does the activity involve? Twisting, stooping, bending, pushing, pulling, sudden movement of the load, team handling or seated work.
- Individual – employees have varied physical capacity, and this must be reflected in your assessment. Also, specific assessments should be carried out for your employees, pregnant employees or those that may have reduced physical capacity.
- Load – the type of load must be considered. Is it heavy, hard to grasp, sharp, hot, cold, unusual shape?
- Environment – the working environment has a big part to play also. Consider lighting, floor condition, slip/trip hazards, space constraints, hot or cold environments.
Employees must always be consulted when carrying out risk assessments.
Once you have completed your risk assessments and put controls in place, you must ensure your employees are fully trained in manual handling. This is a requirement of Health and Safety legislation.
Then all that is left to do is review your assessments regularly and ensure your employees receive refresher training when they are due.