Poor manual handling is responsible for over half of all back injuries and a quarter of all upper limb disorders.
Done incorrectly, it can cause long term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), so it is vital that if you are working in an industry that requires heavy lifting and handling, you know how to do it properly.
According to statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an estimated 30.4 million working days were lost in 2015/2016 due to self-reported work-related illness or injury, with 4.5 million of these being due to workplace injury.
This is a staggering number, considering that injury at work is easily preventable.
Follow these top tips to ensure safer lifting and handling:
- Assess what needs to be done - consider the weights and distances involved, the heights from where a load has to be picked up or set down, and the frequency of the activity. Don't be tempted to lift more than what you can manage safely. Keep within safe limits.
- Decide what you can lift safely - based on your capability, the nature of the load, environmental conditions, and your training.
- Identify ways of reducing the risk - for example, does it need to be lifted at all (e.g. can you complete the work in another place?), can you use lifting aids and complete the task mechanically, or can you get help to lift or use other tools?
- Rearrange the task - where possible, rearrange the task to minimise the risks. You may be able to push instead of pull, break up the distance with more rest points, etc.
- Assess the nature of the load - for example, can you break up the load into smaller items to make it lighter, can you make it easier to grasp, or more stable?
- Assess the work environment - remember to walk the route first and clear any obstructions; check the walkway (e.g. are there uneven surfaces, gradients or blind corners?); avoid steps, ramps, twists and turns; consider whether the lighting should be improved or whether to use personal protective equipment.
- Plan in advance how the task will be carried out - decide what exactly will be done and how before you start; would it help to have someone walking in front and/or behind to warn others and watch out for hazards; and always communicate your plan with others, including colleagues who are helping with the lift and also those who work in the vicinity.
- Use safe lifting techniques, whenever you lift - for example, by adopting a stable position and good posture, keeping the load as close to your body as possible, using your legs and feet (not your back), keeping your head up, not twisting your body and back, and lifting smoothly.