Over one-third of some 439,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) cases reported in 2012 were caused by manual handling, which makes manual handling the most hazardous activity around the workplace. The Manual Handling Occupation Regulations (MHORs) of 1992 define manual handling as, "any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force.”
The menacing numbers of MSD cases have forced employers to take a closer look at their manual handling operations, especially since injured employees started suing their companies for damages. Thanks to the best practices and manual handling guidelines issued and recommended by HSE and RoSPA, there has been a decrease in the incidence of MSD in the last couple of years. Employers are increasingly opting to get their handling procedures reassessed and get their employees trained for manual handling.
Manual Handling Training
Manual handling training encompasses areas such as the principles of safer moving and handling, manual handling process and risk assessment, the anatomy of the spine, causes of MSD, safety gear, etc. Training sessions are offered for the crews as well as the supervisors and managers. Although there's no alternative to a full-fledged manual handling training conducted by a reputable organization such as the RoSPA, there are some basics that every employer or manager overseeing manual handling operations should be aware of. Here they are, briefly:
Slashing Manual Handling Risks
The MOHRs 1992 spell out important guidance for avoiding MSDs during manual handling operations. The regulations recommend a hierarchy of steps to help you manage manual handling risks. The recommended sequence in which you should proceed to cut manual handling risks is as follows:
Step 1: Avoid unnecessary or harmful manual handling operations as far as possible. Some of the hazardous operations can be eliminated by use of lifting and moving equipments. For instance, you can use a manual pallet truck to move loads instead of having people lift or push them manually.
Step 2: Assess the risk in each of the manual handling operations that are unavoidable
Step 3: Take all possible measures to minimize the risk of injury.
Manual Handling Risk Assessment Tools
The HSE offers multiple tools for assessing your manual handling operations, such as the MAC tool, the ART tool, and the Pushing and Pulling tool.
- The MAC (Manual Handling Assessment Chart) tool helps you assess the risks associated with lifting, lowering, carrying, and group manual handling operations.
- The ART (Assessment of Repetitive Tasks) tool is designed for assessing repetitive tasks that may cause MSD to the upper limb.
- The Pushing and Pulling tool emphasizes the importance of assessing pushing and pulling tasks, which are often considered nonhazardous. However, certain complementing conditions, such as an uneven or slopped surface, can cause risk for MSD in apparently harmless push and pull tasks.
Apart from these tools, the MOHRS 1992 also offers a very useful framework for risk assessment in manual handling operations. Abbreviated as TILEO, this important tool is described in the following paragraphs.
The TILEO Method of Risk Assessment
The acronym TILEO stands for Task, Individual, Load, Environment, and Other Factors. It's a formula that helps you break down each manual handling operation into 5 distinct components and make an in-depth analysis of each dimension in order to minimize the risk of injury. You can ask the following questions:
- Task: Does the task involve twisting, stooping, bending, pushing, pulling, positioning, sudden movement, or team handling?
- Individual: Are the people carrying out the manual handling activity physically fit, healthy, capable, sick, disabled or pregnant?
- Load: Is the load heavy, hard to grip, sharp, hot, cold, or hazardous (chemicals etc)? Are the contents likely to move (liquid etc)?
- Environment: Assess the environment in which the handling operation is taking place. Are there space constraints? Are the floors uneven, slippery, or at different levels? Are the conditions hot, cold, humid, or noisy?
- Other Factors: Are the workers using proper PPE gear? Does the protective equipment interfere with the movement or handling?
The above framework enables you to assess the risks involved in your manual handling operations and take countermeasures to avert MSDs and other injuries. For instance, if the task involves lifting, you can brief your crews about the correct lifting technique. If the floor is slippery, you can include rubber boots in the protective equipment, and so on.
The law requires employers to take all possible steps for minimizing the risk of workplace injuries and accidents. The brief guidance provided in this article is not conclusive. Please refer to HSE and RoSPA websites for further details.