Over a quarter of workplace injuries in Victoria are caused by manual handling. Workplace injuries can negatively affect businesses by reducing staff numbers and morale, which can have knock-on effects on productivity and earnings. Manual handling injuries are not to be overlooked and thankfully they can be easily prevented.
What is manual handling?
Before we talk about prevention, it’s important you know what you’re trying to prevent. Manual handling actually refers to a wide range of activities. This definition can include lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, packing, assembling, typing, cleaning, and using hand tools and machinery.
A lot of manual handling risks come about because of repetition. Repetitive movements, whether it’s on a production line or on a worksite, can cause the attention to wander, and that’s when injuries happen. Even typing for long periods of time can lead to repetitive stress injuries.
Other manual handling risks arise when workers do not have adequate training or the proper equipment to manage the physical demands of a job. This could be as simple as not knowing the best way to lift a heavy box or not having access to a forklift.
Manual handling risks also include the workplace environment. For instance, many workplaces do not take the time ensure computer set-ups meet the needs of workers. This can lead to neck, shoulder and back strain.
Identifying and assessing risks
Due to the nature of many jobs and businesses, it’s impossible to phase out all manual handling entirely, but injuries can be prevented. The first step to do so is to identify risks in your workplace.
A great place to start is to speak with your workers. They will be the most aware of any potential injuries or stress that can occur in their role. Have a look at any injury records you have on-site also to see if there are any regular patterns.
Take a tour of your workplace and look for anything that could result in a manual handling injury. Is the workspace laid out well to prevent workers twisting or bending in awkward ways? Are the loads that workers are expected to carry unnecessarily heavy or difficult to keep a hold of?
Once you have identified and assessed the risks in your workplace, you can plan to prevent manual handling injuries. A lot of risks can be managed by simply changing one or two things.
For instance, if you run a warehouse where workers assemble orders, place them into boxes for dispatch and then take those boxes over into a dispatch area, there are numerous ways manual handling injuries could occur.
Firstly, how do workers get the items they need for each order? Do they have to reach up high and stretch muscles unnecessarily? A simple step or footstool may be all that is required to avoid pulled muscles.
What about where they assemble packages – is the workbench a suitable height? If workers are bending over their work, this can lead to neck and back problems.
And how are the completed orders taken to the dispatch area? Do workers have to carry them over?
If orders are particularly heavy or numerous, there are ways to reduce risk. This can include breaking orders up into smaller, more manageable loads or investing in material handling equipment like a forklift. These solutions could even increase efficiency.
One of the key ways to reduce manual handling injuries is to use material handling equipment, like wheelbarrows, and even more specified equipment. For instance, drum handling equipment can ensure drums with dangerous chemicals are not dropped, putting multiple workers at risk. Similarly, pipe lifting equipment is a necessity when dealing with heavy cement or steel pipes to prevent serious injuries.
Manual handling injuries can be easily prevented with some careful consideration, saving your business time and money, and keeping your workers healthy and happy. To learn more about maintaining a safe workplace and manual handling injuries, visit Worksafe Victoria’s website.