Manual Handling at Work

Almost a third of accidents at work involve manual handling, which generally means lifting, pushing or physically moving a load. It is estimated that over 1 million people at work suffer from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), including those related to manual handling injuries. Personal suffering, lost working time and lost production are some of the things that result from accidents at work. However, although these are important aspects, one other thing that should be considered is prosecution.

Case Study

A company from Sunderland was fined £5000 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to carry out proper risk assessments of manual handling tasks.

The company manufacture and install a range of fencing products. They have a small concrete shed at their site where they manufacture concrete posts and lintels. These range in weight from 13kg to 230kg. The process of making these units involves considerable manual handling, i.e. moving the units around the process area. The company had not carried out risk assessments of these operations.

Because the company had failed to carry out risk assessments, they had failed to appreciate the real risks associated with moving the loads. Managers of the site did not appreciate the need for mechanical lifting equipment nor did they appreciate the considerable strain placed upon employees when moving these loads around.

The HSE raised a successful prosecution, which resulted in a fine of over £5000 and additional costs of £2000.

Following the legal case, the company installed roller tables in the concrete shed, which have significantly reduced the amount of personal involvement. Manual handling training has been provided for all employees.

What Does the Law Say?

The law, in this case the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, require employers to undertake manual handling risk assessments to:

  • Determine the risk to employees
  • Identify the level of risk
  • Develop suitable control measures, and
  • Reduce the risk of manual handling to reasonably practicable levels

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment involves looking at four key aspects of manual handling risk. These are:

  • The load
  • The person
  • The task
  • The working environment

The following should be considered.
The load:

  • How heavy is it?
  • What size is it?
  • What shape is it?
  • Is the load movable within its container?

The person:

  • Age
  • Physical ability
  • Sex
  • Health disorders

The task:

  • How far does the load have to be lifted?
  • Is there another way to do the job?
  • Can mechanical lifting equipment be used?
  • Is the job carried out inside or outside?

The working environment:

  • Lighting
  • Temperature
  • Strong winds or other air movements

Once information is gathered about the load, the person, the task and the working environment, a judgement can be made as to the level of risk that is associated with the manual handling operation. Usually, manual handling jobs are categorised as either low, medium or high risk.

If the assessment determines that the job is low risk, then nothing more needs to be done. Perhaps some training would be a good idea, but generally the job would be quite safe to continue.

If the assessment determines that the job is medium risk, considerable thought needs to be given as to how the risk may be reduced. Installing equipment, providing training or changing the way that the job is done are some of the things that may need to be considered.

However, the most serious case is when the assessment determines that the job is high risk. In this case, action must be taken as there is likely to be a risk of serious injury. High risk jobs must be stopped and control measures put in place to reduce the risk to at least a ‘medium’.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Many things can be done to help prevent MSD. Firstly, risk assessment is essential. From the findings of risk assessment, employers will be able to identify the level of risk that exists and will be able to put in place controls to help reduce the risk.

The best form of control is mechanical lifting equipment, which includes items such as lifting trucks, portable trolleys, conveyor machines and mechanical hoists. These can be costly, but are certainly the most effective.

An important consideration is training. People who are expected to lift or move heavy loads at work should be provided with manual handling training. There are many different types of training course, but one that looks specifically at the type of work being undertaken is best. Training courses should cover the following:

  • Basic theory of the spine and how it responds to strain
  • Spinal damage scenarios
  • Looking after your back
  • The principles of kinetic lifting
  • Practical lifting techniques: pulling, pushing, lowering and lifting.

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