This is a point that most workplaces I visit are starting to get, yet I still think it needs to be stated.  There is next to no point in sitting worker in front of a video about manual handling, or running a generic “one size fits all” course, and yet there are still a number of workplaces that are still doing this.  In my mind there are really only two reasons that a company may do this:

  1. They actually feel that it will reduce the chance of manual handling injuries.
  2. They feel that this will mitigate potential legal liability in the event that a worker injures themselves.

Both of these rationales have issues as I will discuss.

The evidence for the effectiveness of generic manual handling or safe lifting programs is very poor.  In fact most of the evidence points to the fact that they probably do not work, in the sense that they do not reduce the likelihood of injuries.  Many reviews show this including this one from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and this from the British Health and Safety Executive.

The other reason that workplaces may elect to run generic training course is that they feel that it will protect them legally.  This is not an area I am able to make qualified comment on, suffice to say that both common and statutory laws in Australia require workplaces to act in a “reasonable” or “reasonably practicable” manner.  In light of the fact that we are quite confident that generic training does not reduce the injury likelihood of workers, can a workplace who engages in it be regarded as reasonable?

So…it appears clear that manual handling training must be task specific, not generic.  How now do we determine what to train workers in?   Well, we must of course assess the workplace to determine what the high risk tasks actually.  There are a few ways in which this could be done.  Observations, videos of tasks and actual risk assessment are important options, but most important is to talk to workers who actually perform the tasks.  They will know what causes them discomfort and/or pain.   These are the tasks that need to be focussed on.

Training must then be set-up to provide solutions to these problems.  This does not mean “bend your knees and keep your back straight”, a statement so synonymous with manual handling training.  It means that we must look toward practical solutions specific to these tasks that reduce the known risk factors for manual handling.

Further information on assessing risk for manual handling can be gained from the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland here.