Manual handling of People (People handling) is an issue that affects a number of business.  It is a core business for business involved in healthcare, aged care, community care and disability care, but also affects more unexpected places such as airlines.  We are experiencing a shift in our population towards a more aged population.  The proportion of Australia’s population aged over 65 years has grown from 8 per cent in 1970-71 to 13 per cent in 2001-02. The IGR projects that over the next 40 years, the proportion of the population over 65 years will almost double to around 25 per cent (Australia’s Demographic Challenges – Australian Treasury).  With this in mind it is clear that there will be a greater requirement to care for this people, and a large part of this care will be manual handling.

What is the Law?

General health and Safety duties for manual handling are found in the various state Work Health and Safety Acts and Regulations, however legislation specific to people handling is only found in Codes of Practice, and even then it is not much.  The most specific is the Queensland Manual Tasks Involving the Handling of People Code of Practice 2001.  This document, while older, outlines some suitable broad concepts that still apply to people handling.  Newer, but less specific is that Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice.  This code is part of the model WHS Legislation functioning in most states and territories (WA and SA excluded at time of writing).  The Queensland version may be downloaded from here.  This Code of Practice provides some great general guidance on manual handling, that may be indirectly applied to people handling, but gives limited specific guidance.

How to Manage People Handling

So what is a business to do?  With limited current specific guidance in that area how should this potentially hazardous area be managed.  The answer is similar to most other manual handling, but this area does require some additional training and skill.  Here I will try to outline a basic approach to management of manual handling of people.

  1. Assess high risk tasks

This is important as it is in other areas of manual handling.  Determine what people handling are being performed.  Tasks might include things such as bed mobility (rolling, slide sheets etc), standing transfers and use of various hoists).  Each task should be assessed and the safest way of moving the people determined.

  1. Ensure the correct use of equipment

Manual handling of people usually involves the use of more equipment than other type of manual handling and each organisation needs to be aware of what current best practice is.  Hoists, walk-belts, slide-sheets are all essential in various situations, but are inappropriate in others.  Organisations must ensure the availability and correct use of this equipment.

  1. Train staff in correct techniques

This is one area of manual handling where training in techniques is particularly important.  Techniques in this area are based on good biomechanical principles, as per all manual handling, but go further.  Handling of people involves good understanding of risks associated with different medical conditions, disabilities (both physical and intellectual), as well as use of specific items of equipment such as slide sheets and various lifting hoists.  The training program needs to be customised and trained by a person with expertise in this area.

Momentum Safety runs people handling course, in addition to train the trainer course for people handling.