Using Risk Assessments to Avoid Manual Handling Injuries
Workplace injuries are a serious factor that every business, manager and staff member must think about. Not only do injuries impact on workers health but on absenteeism, loss of income and even loss of jobs.
The costs associated with work related injury not only affect the worker, but also the employer and the whole community. Direct costs include medical expenses, legal costs, and the cost of finding a replacement. Indirect costs include lost output due to reduced productivity, reduced staff morale, as well as the administration of workers’ compensation claims.
The most recent statistics show that of the 10.8 million working Australians, 6.4% experienced at least one work-related injury or illness. Most commonly these injuries were caused by manual handling activities. Manual handling, put simply, involves the lifting and carrying of weights. However, there is more to it. It can include any activity requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, push, pull, carry or otherwise move or restrain any moving or stationary object. Simple activities such as poor sitting, standing and typing postures, repetitive reaching, twisting and bending can also result in a manual handling injury.
It is well recognised that implementing control measures through the form of a risk assessment can assist in the prevention and minimisation of manual handling related injuries. Three key stages are included in manual handling risk assessments to reduce the number of injuries:
- Identification of risk factors in the workplace
- Detailed assessment of specific risk factors
- Control measures to eliminate or reduce riskIdentification
In this stage it is important to identify and prioritise areas which require risk assessments. It is imperative that all work place injury records are analysed, helping to detect the most critical areas and tasks in your workplace. All employees should be consulted as they conduct the tasks on a daily basis and may have concerns or issues they wish to address. This can be done through surveys, face to face meetings, team meetings or the request of reports. Managers should endeavour to observe and inspect tasks and work areas as activities are carried out. This will ensure managers can easily identify key risk factors that may have previously been overlooked.
When assessing a particular job or task employees should be consulted and all risk factors should be taken into account. The first step in this process requires assessing all employees’ actions and movements to ensure they will not lead to any discomfort or pain. These activities should be performed smoothly and with control in a balanced and comfortable position. Activities should be free from extreme ranges of joint movement, repetitive bending, twisting and overreaching.
Managers next need to ensure employees carry out all duties with the correct working posture and in the correct position. It is critical the employee can adopt several positions, adopt safe and healthy working postures and schedule periodic rest breaks after being in the same position for long periods.
It is important to understand that the risk of injury rises with the increasing frequency, repetition and duration of a manual handling activity by any one employee in a given work period. Managers must ensure employees do not conduct the same manual handling tasks over long periods as this leads to a reduction in alertness and increases the chance of injury.
Weights and forces handled need to be assessed with paramount care. The weight of any load manually handled should be considered in relation to key risk factors. These include frequency and duration of load handling, position of the load relative to the body, the distance moved and the characteristics of the load. The heavier the load, the more critical the assessment and the application of appropriate control measures are.
The environment in which employees work often impact upon the rate of injuries experienced. It is important to take into consideration staffing levels, availability of equipment, work schedules, work pace, task variation, rest breaks, recovery time and work procedures. As well as the climate in which employees are working, lighting, space and floors and surfaces.
If a task or work area is determined as a risk, all measures possible should be undertaken to control this risk. Most commonly managers need to redesign the task completely to ensure the task eliminates all factors deemed as unsafe. To ensure this step is carried out successfully all employees involved should be consulted as well as all relevant industry, safety and health representatives. If redesign is not feasible mechanical aids, personal protective equipment and team lifting should be arranged. To ensure risks are properly controlled employees concerned must receive training and supervision that is appropriate in relation to the action they complete.
A safe working environment matters not only to staff, but is a management issue for every employer.
Konekt is a publicly listed Australian company and the largest private sector provider of workplace health solutions. Its focus is on helping organisations minimise the impact of workplace injury and related workplace costs, resulting in reduced workers’ compensation premiums. By examining key areas of an employee’s workplace practices and procedures, Konekt can assist to minimise work place injuries by assessing and implementing training programs for employees. www.konekt.com.au