It’s all too easy to lift something awkwardly and then feel that tell-tale ache through your back to tell you that you’ve just strained something. At best, you may need to rest for a few days, but the worst-case scenario could be a severe injury with life-changing repercussions.
When that happens in the workplace, then you could have a case for seeking compensation for a shoulder injury or for whatever physical damage has been caused. However, the best solution is to avoid the issue from happening in the first place.
In this article, we will look at manual handling in the workplace, the employers’ responsibilities, and best practices.
What is Manual Handling?
Manual handling tasks are any that require some form of physical exertion when carrying out work at your place of work. This manual handling can include lifting, stacking, pushing, pulling, and moving items around.
These kinds of activities are likely to lead to back pain if you don’t have the correct body mechanics in place. For example, if you have to lift up a heavy box or suitcase at your workplace without using the correct technique, then this will most definitely be bad for your back. By having good body mechanics in place, you’ll be able to reduce the strain on your lower back when doing these types of manual handling tasks.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 are in place to ensure that employers protect their employees when they are doing manual handling work.
Employers must provide suitable lifting equipment, advice, and training to their employees. This includes suggesting the most appropriate lifting equipment for manual handling tasks to hand. Employers should also consider how to reduce any hazards associated with manual handling tasks.
If employers have five or more employees, they must have a written assessment of all prescribed work activities carried out by the employees at their workplace. This will be called your ‘Manual Handling Risk Assessment.’ The risks to your health and safety at work need to be identified, then controls set up so that these risks are minimized.
Manual handling assessments can be carried out by you or by your employer.
If an item is too heavy for one person to move safely, then you need to consider whether lifting equipment would be appropriate to use. For example, if a heavy suitcase needs to be moved from A-B in your workplace, then a trolley may be a more sensible choice.
Lifting equipment is not always suitable for manual handling tasks, but when it is the right tool, then it will allow you to lift items safely and reduce the risk of getting back pain or injury while carrying out these kinds of tasks.
Manual Handling Risks at Work
As well as lifting heavy objects, other manual handling risks could include walking/running with an object in either hand, pulling something towards yourself or pushing away from you. When doing any of these tasks without good body mechanics in place, you are at risk of causing yourself damage in the form of back pain.
Body Mechanics When Lifting
When you have to lift anything heavy in your workplace, you need to have good body mechanics when doing so. This means that you need to bend your knees and keep your back straight when picking up an object.
You can then use your leg muscles rather than straining your lower back when lifting the item off the ground. Your arm should be bent at a 90-degree angle, rather than being fully outstretched or pulled tightly towards yourself with a bent elbow.
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your shoulders squared when lifting something. Your head should then be upright, too, with your eyes looking in the direction that you’re going. If you can’t see where you’re going, then this increases the risk of tripping and hurting yourself
Manual Handling Principles
To keep workers safe when carrying out manual handling activities:
- Plan ahead and consult with anyone involved to find the right manual handling solutions
- Know how to do manual handling activities and carry out risk assessments to ensure that no one gets injured.
- Provide suitable equipment (e.g., wheeled trolleys, appropriate lifting devices or personal protective equipment if needed).
- Ensure workers receive training and supervision so they can follow safe practices correctly.
- Employers should also consult job descriptions and design tasks so that they can be carried out safely.