A guide to manual handling risk assessments
Manual handling activities are an essential part of many workflows, but they can also be extremely dangerous if they are not managed correctly by everyone involved in the process.
The lifting and carrying of heavy objects can seem straightforward enough on paper, but in reality there are all sorts of things that can go wrong, potentially resulting in serious injury and possible legal consequences, not to mention damage to valuable goods.
This is why any company responsible for manual handling needs to make sure it carries out a thorough risk assessment before any such activity can take place. In doing so, bosses can weigh up all the potential hazards and take steps to mitigate them, ensuring that the whole process can proceed smoothly and safely.
The risks of manual handling
Manual handling involves lifting, carrying, lowering or otherwise moving a load by hand or bodily force and is known to be the most common cause of accidental injury in the workplace.
One in three accidents at work are caused by manual handling, with around 300,000 people in the UK suffering from back pain due to manual handling accidents each year. Given that 12.3 million working days are lost annually due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, it should be clear why preventing manual handling accidents is crucially important from both a safety and a financial perspective.
Factors to consider
When carrying out a manual handling risk assessment, staff should be considering four main areas: the nature of the task, the capabilities of the individual performing it, the characteristics of the load and the layout of the environment. These four factors can be easily remembered by using the acronym TILE.
Assessing the task – this step should involve an examination of what the manual handling process involves on a basic logistical level, including the positioning of the load, the distance that needs to be travelled and the number of people needed to carry it out. In particular, consideration should be given to whether the lifter will need to stoop down or twist at the waste at any point, as well as making sure that those involved will have adequate opportunity to rest and recover.
Assessing the individual – this step requires bosses to think about the personal capabilities of those involved in the work, including their age, preexisting health conditions, the equipment they possess and whether or not they require specialist training. Some tasks may require a person with a specific level of strength, while others may not be suitable for certain individuals due to prior injuries they may have sustained.
Assessing the load – some loads are more difficult to transport than others for reasons that go beyond whether or not they are heavy. As such, it's worth taking the time to think about whether the object in question has an unwieldy shape, whether it is difficult to grasp, whether it obscures the carrier's view when they hold it or whether its contents are likely to shift around during transit, which can affect balance.
Assessing the environment – the environment can also play a role in making a manual handling task more difficult. This is especially the case if space is restricted, if the ground is uneven or slippery, if the lighting or ventilation is poor, and if the environment is exposed to weather and the elements. As such, taking these factors into account should also be a key part of the risk assessment process.
Basic principles to consider
Although the solutions to each of these problems will vary from case to case, there are a few basic principles that can help staff to make sure they are handling heavy loads as safely as possible.
These include clearing a path and a setting-down point before the moving begins, bending the knees to lift without curving the back and grasping the object as close to the body as possible. Workers should also be advised to avoid twisting the body as much as possible by turning their feet to position themselves and to make sure that one person is responsible for coordinating collective action when lifting as a team.
Companies should also bear in mind the need to invest in handling aids such as trolleys or wheelbarrows in certain circumstances and to utilise personal protective equipment. Above all else, it's vital to take an ergonomic approach that adapts procedure according to the results of the risk assessment, rather than trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't account for different circumstances.
Summary: When managing manual handling activities in the workplace, it is essential that managers remember the key principles that will allow them to effectively assess and deal with any risks that might arise.