What is Manual Handling?
Manual handing can be defined as “transporting or supporting of a load including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof by hand or by bodily force”. Manual handling accidents occur every day in the workplace and account for more than one in five of all workplace injuries. These injuries typically include: strains or sprains of the back, trapped hands / fingers, cuts from sharp objects and injuries to the feet such as broken bones.
An estimated 1.6 million working days are lost every year due to handling injuries. The average number of days lost per incident is over 10. HSE statistics show more than a quarter of ‘over seven day’ injuries to employees are attributable to manual handling.
What The Law Says
Employers are required by law to take reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of all employees. When it comes to managing the risks associated with manual handling we are provided with specific legislation in the form of The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. These Regulations state that employers should adopt the following hierarchy of control measures:
-to avoid the need for Manual Handling which involves a risk so far as is reasonably practicable;
-to make an assessment of any Manual Handling activity that cannot be avoided; take steps to reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable to the lowest level; and provide employees with general indications and information on the load in particularly the weight.
It’s All About Risk Assessment
The starting point before undertaking any manual handling activity is to carry out a risk assessment. The risk assessment should take into account four specific areas: Task, Individual, Load and Environment (easily remembered by the acronym TILE) as follows:
Task - Does the activity involve pushing, pulling or positioning of the load, sudden movement, stooping, bending, twisting, excessive travel, inadequate rest or recovery periods, team handling or seated work?
Individual – Are they young, pregnant, disabled or suffering from a health problem? Does the individual need to be strong or tall for the activity?
Load - Is the load heavy, unwieldy, difficult to grasp, sharp, hot, cold, difficult to grip? Are the contents likely to move or shift?
Environment - Are there uneven, slippery or unstable floors, hot or cold conditions, variations in floor levels, inadequate lighting, poor weather such as wind, rain or ice, space constraints, poor ventilation?
As with any type of assessment, the workforce and their representatives should be involved in the process, as they are familiar with the activity and may even identify suitable solutions. Use should also be made of any previous accident history and relevant guidance. A record of all significant findings should be made providing you employ five or more people. These records should be communicated to those affected by the risk and reviewed periodically.
Practical Risk Control Measures
The Assessment carried out might identify a number of areas which require further improvement that could be made to eliminate or reduce the risk of manual handling. When completing the assessment, there is a variety of controls which can be introduced dependent on the hazard, these are just some suggestions which you can consider.
Think about how and where things are stored. Position heavier items so that they are easily reached and handled such as waist height, therefore avoiding stretching and use of step ladders and preventing people stooping down low. Although heavy items are often placed low down, this could pose a greater risk to someone lifting it up to a suitable height for carrying than if it were raised up slightly on a shelf. Plan how and where items will be moved before starting. Ensuring the route and the location where the item is to be placed is clear and in a safe condition.
Mark the weight onto containers and boxes. This will enable people decide if they are capable of lifting, pushing or pulling the object. Ensure that items inside containers are secure so that the objects do not move about inside creating an unstable load.Making more journeys to carry the same amount of weight, but in smaller quantities by reducing the size of the boxes, is better than carrying large heavy items.Consider if the person carrying the load is best suited to the task, or if assistance is needed such team lifting.
Use mechanical aids, such as Spring Balances which suspend tooling in the air whilst in use, or use trolleys, Fork Lift Trucks, lifting equipment such as hoists, goods lifts, scissor lifts and overhead cranes to assist in the movement of loads or objects. Personal protective equipment such as gloves could be used to protect the hands from cuts, safety shoes with steel toe-caps can protect the feet from items which fall onto feet. But the wearing of body warmers and weather protective clothing may restrict the movement of individuals making it harder to complete the task.
Manual Handling Training
People carrying out manual handling activities should have received initial training; this teaches them good handling techniques. It is recommended that people undertake manual handling refresher training at defined frequencies.
Rise in Health and Safety Penalties
Since the introduction of the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, the number of companies fined for breaches of health and safety regulations has gone up by 60%. Penalties imposed by courts for failing to comply with health and safety regulations are also on the rise. Fines have risen on average from £4,577 to £7,310 over that period. There has also been a 25% increase in the fines applied to organisations for failing to comply to both the Health and Safety at Work Act and Health and Safety Regulations with the average fine rising from £13,334 to £16,730.