Manual tasks that require you to use your body to move or hold an object are common in many workplaces. Data entry on a computer, shelf stacking, and conveyor line work are all examples of manual handling. Musculoskeletal disorders, the most common workplace injury in Australia, can be caused by incorrect or ill-informed manual handling.
Any manual handling task that requires restraint, lifting, holding, lowering, pushing, pulling, or carrying something has the potential to cause stress on the body and, ultimately, musculoskeletal disorder. This is because of things like:
- Vibration exposure
- Repetitive motion
- Awkward or persistent postures
- Force that is repeated, abrupt, or sustained
According to WHS laws, failing to manage hazardous manual handling tasks in the workplace is negligent and a violation of the corresponding legislation. As a result, employers must ensure that manual tasks identified as potentially hazardous are subjected to a workplace risk assessment. The exception to this rule is when a well-known risk is already effectively controlled by measures such as modified work procedures, the introduction of ergonomically designed tools and equipment, or a redesigned work area. Risk assessments assist in determining when a manual handling task becomes dangerous and what steps must be taken to create safer working procedures. These assessments are also useful in identifying psychosocial risks, such as heavy workloads and tight deadlines, which contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.
What exactly is musculoskeletal disorder?
Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are musculoskeletal injuries or diseases. The musculoskeletal system, which includes the skeleton, joints, muscles, ligaments, cartilage, tendons, and other connective binding tissue, supports and protects the body. Musculoskeletal disorders can happen suddenly or gradually, and they do not include fractures or dislocations caused by entrapment or crushing. MSDs that occur suddenly are usually caused by unexpected forces, whereas MSDs that occur gradually are caused by continuous overuse, including static body positions. However, injuries can occur as a result of a combination when body tissue has been weakened and is thus more vulnerable to sudden injury from lower forces.
Examples of MSDs caused by hazardous manual tasks and their symptoms include:
Acute or chronic discomfort
Strains and sprains
Hernias are examples of soft tissue injuries.
Muscular and vascular conditions
Joint and bone injuries or degeneration
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of a nerve injury.
How can I ensure that proper manual handling is practised in the workplace?
Manual handling training is essential for avoiding MSDs and subsequent workers’ compensation claims. Manual handling training supplements pre-existing procedures, such as rules on how to use specific equipment and how to perform tasks safely. Employees and management benefit from training in identifying risks and implementing risk-mitigation measures. Manual handling training should also cover how to perform manual tasks safely and how to report problems.
Employees who perform, supervise, or manage manual tasks, as well as representatives from workplace health and safety, should all receive manual handling training. Additionally, personnel in charge of equipment maintenance and task design should be trained. Employee induction should include training, which should be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
What else can you do besides provide manual handling training?
Administrative control measures should be implemented in addition to manual handling training. Administrative control measures should not be used solely because they only attempt to reduce risk through exposure rather than addressing risk factors. Administrative control measures that you could put in place to reduce the risk of MSDs include:
- Rest breaks
- Job rotation
- Team management
Although rotating employees between different workplace tasks necessitates cross-training of all employees, it is an effective way to reduce MSDs. By allowing employees to rotate jobs, you are allowing them to recover and ensure that they are not overworking a specific muscle or joint. Offering regular rest breaks is another effective way of allowing employees to recover. When compared to longer breaks, frequent short rest breaks allow for better rest and recovery. The nature of the task and the expected recovery time should determine the frequency and duration. Finally, team handling, or manual handling by two or more employees, can be an effective administrative control measure.This measure carries inherent risk and should only be used in the interim. If you choose to use this control measure, make sure that employees are properly matched and that tasks are distributed evenly.