Poor manual handling techniques account for over a third of all workplace injuries, according to data collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
“Manual handling” covers a wide range of activities including lifting, pushing, operating machinery, pulling, cleaning, handling people or animals, repetitive tasks and many more. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) define the term as “any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”.
Employers must avoid setting such tasks as far as possible. However, if manual handling is essential to business operations, employers have a legal responsibility to assess the risks of such activities and implement reasonable health and safety measures to protect their workers from harm.
The list of potential injuries from unsafe manual handling is potentially infinite and will vary depending on the workplace. Let’s take a look at five of the most common injuries and how to avoid them.
Common Manual Handling Injuries in the Workplace
- Back Injuries — by far the most common result of unsafe manual handling. While incorrect lifting is often to blame, this type of injury can be caused by many different types of activities, from carrying or pulling a heavy load to slouching or stooping while performing a repetitive task for hours. Back injuries can be minor and temporary or, if left unchecked, they can develop into long-term chronic conditions that limit an individual’s ability to do their job and live a healthy life.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders — symptoms often develop over time and may be caused or exacerbated by repetitive heavy lifting and other manual handling tasks. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSK) affect the joints, bones and muscles. Sufferers often feel pain in their upper limbs, lower limbs and back. MSK also includes rare autoimmune diseases and back pain. There are over 200 musculoskeletal conditions affecting a quarter of the population. Over 10.8 million workdays are lost each year in the UK as a consequence of MSK.
- Strains and Sprains — are commonly caused in the workplace by slips, trips and falls, performing repetitive tasks for long periods or by lifting heavy objects. These injuries occur when the soft tissues in and around the joints are overstretched or torn. A strain is when the muscles or tendons are affected and a sprain is when the ligaments are damaged. The symptoms include bruising, pain around the affected joint, swelling, limited flexibility and impaired movement.
- Hernias — straining to lift a heavy load can result in a hernia. The risk increases as a person gets older and often surgery is required to rectify the problem. A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body is pushed through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall. There are several different types of hernia. All are likely to cause severe discomfort or pain if left untreated.
- Hand and Foot Injuries — manual handling activities almost always involve the use of the hands, so it’s no surprise that hand injuries make it into our top five. Whether you’re lifting a heavy load or touching something hazardous, your hands are vulnerable to injury. Foot injuries are also common. Sure, workers rarely lift with their feet, but if a heavy object is dropped, it’s often the feet that receive the impact. Crushed, bruised or broken bones are common in both hands and feet when incorrect manual handling techniques are used.
Best Practices: How to Avoid Injury
An employer should conduct a manual handling risk assessment to determine the specific hazards their people are exposed to during the normal course of their workday. This risk assessment should consider any pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying operations. The output from the assessment should identify appropriate proportionate measures to eradicate or reduce the risk of injuries from manual handling activities.
To avoid the injuries listed above, consider implementing some or all of the following best practices:
- Staff Training — ensure that all workers are provided with adequate training in safe manual handling techniques. Training should cover the relevant legislation and safe handling practices in a variety of situations.
- Follow HSE Guidance on Safe Lifting — this varies depending on whether the worker is lifting a load manually or using lifting equipment. For all lifting activities, employers and employees should take into account individual capability, the nature of the load, environmental conditions, training and work organisation, to determine what is the safest approach to manual handling.
- Reduce the Risk of Injury from Sustained Postures — if your workers are required to perform repetitive tasks for long periods, make sure that they have regular rest breaks, use appropriate equipment (e.g. adjustable seats) and that they are rotated between different activities frequently.
- Provide Appropriate Machinery and Equipment — use mechanical aids to perform a task that would otherwise involve manual handling by an employee, where possible. For example, hoists can be used to avoid heavy lifting and pulling.
- Keep Active – Don’t underestimate the importance of regular physical activity to ensure that the back stays healthy. Remind staff as part of general awareness of things that they can go to keep their back healthy.
As with any aspect of health and safety, the foundation of good practice is to equip employees with the skills and knowledge to protect themselves and their colleagues.
Howlett Health and Safety Services can provide your employees with a tutor-led manual handling online training course that will provide them with an awareness of manual handling injuries and what they need to do to adopt good manual handling techniques. If your employee have no awareness of the risks posed by undertaking manual handling activities and how to keep themselves safe, this is a good place to start.
Contact us to find out more or to book.