Manual handling activities – like lifting, pulling, pushing, holding and carrying – can quickly take their toll on our bodies. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are the most common type of workplace injury in Australia, accounting for roughly 60% of all serious workers compensation claims.
 
The good news is that with the right processes, tools and techniques it’s easy to make lighter, safer work of jobs just like these – here’s how.
 
1. Size matters – but it’s not all that matters
 
Size and weight are major factors in many manual-handling injuries, but they are not the only factors. A wide range of activities can put unnecessary strain on the body and result in MSD injury, like:
 
  • Repetitive movements like lifting, lowering, carrying, reaching, jumping or crawling
  • Prolonged postures like bending, squatting, kneeling or lying
  • Repetitive or awkward bending or twisting through the back or neck
  • Predominant use of one side of the body
  • Sudden or sustained exposure to force
  • Excessive or ongoing exposure to vibration.
 
2. Risk assessments
 
The safest approach for manual handling is to design hazards out, and early risk assessments are essential for informing this process.
 
  • Consider whether any tasks involve postures, movements or forces present unnecessary risks to workers.
  • Assess how frequently manual handling tasks are performed, and at what point they become damaging or dangerous.
  • Determine whether any control measures – like workplace redesign, ergonomic behaviours and equipment, or engineered solutions – can reduce the risk of injury.
  • Implement suitable control measures and continue to reassess hazards.
    1.  
      3. Ergonomics
       

      Safe ergonomic practices can dramatically reduce the impact of manual handling activities. Some examples of best practice include: 
       
      • Never manually lift or move anything, unless you know that it can be done safely.
      • Bend at the knees, keep your back straight and try to keep your elbows and arms close to your body.
      • Replace heavy bags of product with ones that are smaller, lighter and/or easier to handle.
      • Avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height.
      • If handles are available for lifting, use them.
      • Always keep the heaviest side of the load closest to the body.
      • When possible, lift in pairs or more – never lift alone.
      • Minimise carrying distances.
      • Enlist the help of mechanical lifting aids.
      • Take regular breaks from continuous or repetitive heavy lifting.
       
      Safe Work Australia offers additional guidance on ergonomics.
       
      4. Engineered solutions
       
      Many mechanical aids and ergonomically designed tools and equipment can be used to reduce the impact of hazardous manual handling tasks. Many examples can be found across industry, here are just a few:
       
      • Replacing hand tools with power tools can prevent repetitive twisting and excessive gripping.
      • Many engineered solutions can lighten lifting loads and reduce the strain of manually moving materials, like motorised wheelbarrows, winches, cranes, conveyors, hoists and forklifts.
      • In food manufacturing, the use of bulk delivery systems and automated dispensing systems can measure, weigh, assign and bag raw materials, eliminating the need for manual handling.
      • In many industries, ergonomically designed hand trolleys can be used to transport lighter items over short distances.
       
      Prevention will always be better than cure

       
      Not all MSDs happen straight away. Many are repetitive strain injuries caused by ongoing exposure to hazards, so by the time you feel pain or discomfort the damage may already be done. To prevent injury – even when the pressure is on to get the job done – it’s always worth taking a moment to assess the risks, determine best ergonomic practice and utilise any safety solutions that are available.
       
      How do you reduce the risk of manual handling activities in your business? What are the greatest safety risks to your workforce? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.
       

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