….continuation from previous post – Effective Manual Handling

1.  Control the workplace first

If you can avoid asking workers to bend, then you can avoid having to teach them how to.  This may be a tall order, but the principle is sound.  The single thing that is most likely to cause a worker to flex the spine with poor posture is by asking them to lift from the floor.  The flip side to this is of course that placing things at their optimal height is most likely to get them moving well.  Without getting a major ergonomic review of the workplace there are some basic principles that can be followed that will make a major difference to the overall “ergonomics” of the workplace:

  • Height and posture: Where we store things and ask people to operate will make possibly the biggest difference to manual handling risk.  Optimal height is between mid-thigh and waist height, but this depends on the load being moved.  The best way to ensure that the height of the object it is suitable is to look at workers and how they move when they are working.  If workers are repeatedly bending forward and stooping then the height is too low.  If they are repeatedly hitching shoulders or having to elevate the arm above 90°, then the height is probably too high.
  • Exertion: Look at people working and talk to them.  Do they look to be exerting themselves excessively?  Do they complain about exertion and feeling tired or fatigued in a particular part of the body at the end of the day?  If so then exertion may be an issue.  Try adjusting the task so that loads are a little lighter, or give workers a break from sustained heavy tasks.  Exertion appears to be more of a cumulative thing and can be reduced by some simple workplace adjustments.
  • Repetition: Are workers performing that same task repeatedly without any opportunity for a break?  If so the task may be leading to injury and should be addressed.  Look for opportunities to rotate workers between jobs.  This can provide not only a physical but also a mental break from the task they are doing.  It will also increase the skill level of the workforce, and provide flexibility in times of staff shortages and increased workloads.  If workers must perform a particular job then allow sufficient time for breaks and encourage stretches.  This will, at the least, provide an opportunity for the muscles to rest and recuperate and reduce the likelihood of injury.

The implementation of these simple principles will ensure that the workplace has minimised the risk that it poses to workers.  Once this is accomplished then we can look at how workers can contribute themselves to reducing injury.