Editors note: This blog post was originally published in April 2017 but has since been updated with additional information.
There are 1.3 million people in the UK suffering from work-related illnesses. In 2017/2018, UK businesses lost 31.2 million working days due to work-related illness and workplace injury. And 144 workers were killed at work.
These stats from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are staggering - especially when you consider that injury at work is easily preventable.
Manual handling is part of a broader group of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. People who work in the construction, agriculture, transportation and storage, as well as those who work in health or social work, are most likely to suffer.
Health and Safety training not only reduces injuries and lost work days, but also improves employee motivation and general compliance.
Our top tips to ensure safer lifting and handling.
1. Assess what needs to be done
Employees should always 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. People should never lift more than what they can manage safely.
2. Decide what can be lifted safely
Employees will need to make a measured call on what they can safely lift, based on their capability, the nature of the load, environmental conditions and training.
3. Identify ways of reducing the risk
Employees should ask themselves: does the item need to be lifted at all? It may be that the work can be completed somewhere else, or without the item in question. Or there may be lifting aids to help them complete the task mechanically. Perhaps someone else could help too.
4. Rearrange the task
Where possible, it’s always worth re-arranging the task to minimise the risk. Employees may be able to push instead of pull or break up the distance with more rest points.
5. Assess the nature of the load
Can the load be broken up into smaller items to make it lighter? Can it be made more stable, or easier to grasp?
6. Assess the work environment
Employees should walk the route first and clear any obstructions. Check the walkway - are there uneven surfaces, gradients or blind corners? Avoid steps, ramps, twists and turns. Consider whether the lighting needs to be improved or whether to use personal protective equipment.
7. Plan in advance how the task will be carried out
Before starting, employees should decide exactly what will be done and how. It might help to have someone walking in front or behind to warn others and watch out for hazards. Plans need to be communicated to others too, including colleagues who work in the vicinity.
8. Use safe lifting techniques
Safe lifting techniques include adopting a stable position and good posture, keeping the load as close to the body as possible, using the legs and feet (not back), keeping the head up, not twisting, and lifting smoothly.
It’s a good idea to make your training content relevant to the specific employee’s job role. For example, by using real work-related scenarios specific to your company. This will help staff to be more engaged and ensure the embed the exact appropriate behaviours.
A good Health and Safety training programme should start with manual handling. But it should also cover a diverse range of areas. Depending on the individual employee’s role, training may cover everything from manual handling, to driving at work, dealing with violence and aggression, and managing work-related stress.
The more you can make the training content relevant to the employee’s specific job role, the more likely they will be to sustain the knowledge they have learned. It’s all too easy for employees to see training as a ‘tick box exercise’ and forget what they are told. With this in mind, it’s also important to have checklists visible to all staff to serve as a reminder when handling equipment.