Manual handling training continues to be one of the most overlooked aspects of health and safety training in many companies across the UK today.
The fact is, quite a large number of recorded workplace accidents are due to workers getting injured while lifting or carrying heavy objects, accidents which could have been avoided if basic manual handling training had been followed.
For many of us lifting, carrying and moving heavy objects is a daily routine which we don’t pay much attention to until it’s too late, the problem with manual handling is that the side effects of performing incorrect manual handling techniques can often go undetected for months or even years until your body can’t take it anymore.
Manual handling involves more than just lifting boxes and objects in the workplace, most people don’t realize that a lot of chores and work we do at home can be classified as manual handling and the risks and side effects are exactly the same in every way.
This is why it’s so important for everyone to have some type of manual handling training even if it’s just basic training.
General Lifting Guidelines
When an employee is required to lift in the workplace it is the responsibility of their employer to first risk assess each lifting situation to ensure worker safety.
Safe lifting limits will vary with each task depending on the weight of the object to be lifted, the gender and weight of the employee and the distance or height to which the lift will take place.
Guidelines state that in ideal lifting conditions the maximum weight a male can safely lift is 25kg while a female can lift up to 16kg.
These maximum weights are reduced if the object is to be lifted above shoulder height, in this situation a male should lift no more than 10kg and a female should lift no more than 7kg.
Lifting an object away from the body, at arm’s length, for example, places more strain on the back and the joints therefore the maximum weight is further reduced to 5kg for males and 3kg for females.
Lifting abilities will vary between individual employees and each person should be aware of his or her own capabilities.
In the same way, an employer should individually assess the lifting ability of each worker and avoid making generalised assumptions about employee competence.
Lifting and shifting: Manual handling procedure.
On a construction site, it’s essentially an unavoidable fact that something heavy will need to be moved, often repeatedly.
However, the common nature of manual handling tasks on a site belies the inherent risk involved: heavy objects exert a great deal of force when dropped, and require a great deal of force in order to move them.
These forces can cause significant (and sometimes permanent) injury if proper technique isn’t used.
Think and plan
When attempting to move a heavy load, it’s important to first take a step back and consider the task ahead of you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the object have sharp edges or awkward handholds?
- What’s the best grip or position to use in order to avoid slipping?
- Where are you moving the load to?
Examine the object and area for hazards like wraps or trip hazards, and consider assigning an area partway as a resting point if the move crosses a large distance.
Get the start right
Make sure that you’re wearing stable footwear and that your legs are shoulder-width to ensure a firm footing. If possible, hug the load to your body tightly, or establish stable handholds.
Setting up a strong, stable starting position will help you to gain control over the load and prevent problems further down the line.
Watch your back
The most common type of injury sustained via manual handling is damage to the back and/or spine. Whilst the spine is remarkably strong, it is constantly undergoing shifting loads, and any damage may take a long time to heal if it ever does.
Back injuries can put you out of work for months, years or permanently if you’re not careful.
Try to lift the load with your arms and legs as much as possible, and avoid flexing your back or pulling from the back as much as possible. Keeping the load tight to your waist keeps it around your centre of gravity and below your spine, preventing excess load.
Avoid twisting your back; uncontrolled twisting can permanently damage the spine.
Sudden movements during manual handling commonly result in injury. Keep your head up and facing in the direction you are travelling, so as to avoid tripping or miss-stepping. Move smoothly, trying to avoid jerking or stilted movement.
Smooth movement keeps the load on your bones and muscles consistent, rather than causing sudden forces which could cause injury. Put the object down before adjusting your grip and don’t carry more than you have to.
Before attempting to lift a load there are a number of factors you should consider, some of these include:
- How heavy is the load?
- Can you manage the load on your own?
- Can the object be moved mechanically instead?
- Does the object have handles?
- Will your path be visible while you carry the object?
- Is the path you’re about to travel clear and hazard-free?
- Will you need to stop and rest?
- Do you need to travel up or down stairs?
- Does the object need to be placed above head height?