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Manual handling causes over a third of all workplace injuries

What is manual handling?
Manual handling causes over a third of all workplace injuries. Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, the term means transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. It covers a wide variety of physical activities including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying. All these activities increase the risk of injury.

How can manual handling harm me?
Common work-related manual handling injuries can result from gradual wear and tear, sudden or repetitive movements including twisting, working in a cramped environment, or regular stooping and bending. They include repetitive strain injuries as well as musculoskeletal disorders such as pain and injuries to arms, legs and joints. These can all lead to long-term health problems. Other impacts and symptoms which are harder to quantify include disturbed sleep, fatigue, financial issues, anxiety and depression.
Manual handling injuries can occur in any occupation. But they are far more common in roles that involve heavy loads and repetitive movements. Examples of common activities that involve manual handling and regularly occur on construction sites include:

Plastering. This work is physically demanding, involving the manual handling of heavy materials. It also requires endurance, as well as reaching and working in a variety of awkward postures. If not effectively controlled, any one of these factors can result in significant injury.

Floor screeding. Most floor screeding injuries result from the need to work at floor level, leading to constant bending or kneeling. Depending on the site, the screed may need to be transported into the room using a wheelbarrow, which involves pushing and pulling. Spreading the screed is physically demanding and includes the need for long forward reaches while in stooped or kneeling positions.

How do we prevent manual handling injuries?
Preventing injuries requires a sensible approach using a hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk to workers. This means avoiding manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable, and reducing the risk from activities that can’t be avoided.
Where possible the need for manual handling should be eliminated. But avoiding manual handling altogether isn’t always possible, particularly on a construction site where it is routine with most work activities.
In this case, engineering controls in the form of mechanical aids can be used to assist in carrying out tasks. Heavy sheets of plasterboard, for example can be transported using lifts and trolleys. In addition, risks can be reduced by replacing construction materials such as concrete kerbs or heavy woods with lightweight alternatives or composite materials.
Workplace organisation and job design should also be considered. This could include implementing regular breaks and job rotation.

Manual handling risk assessments
A manual handling risk assessment is required when a task cannot be avoided and there is a risk of injury. This will identify the most appropriate controls and reduce the risk to the worker. When conducting manual handling risk assessments, the TILE principle can be used:

Task. What is involved in the task? Does it require carrying over long distances, stooping to place loads, repetitive movements, or insufficient rests or recovery time? Once the task is defined, relevant control measures can be identified. These could include getting materials delivered closer to the point of landing to reduce the carrying distance, providing raised storage to avoid stooping, or using a mechanical aid such as a trolley or a powered handling device.

Individual. Who is carrying out the task? How old are they and what is their level of experience? All workers should be provided with adequate information and training on manual handling, but does the specific job require additional training? Manual handling guidelines suggest the maximum safe lifting weight for a man is 25kg. For a woman it’s 16kg. As all people are different and have varying levels of strength, these figures should not be used as absolutes but rather as a guide.

Load. What is the state of the load? Is it hot, sharp, difficult to grasp, heavy or unstable? Control measures to consider include breaking the
load into more manageable sized pieces, providing handles that make it easier to grasp, or organising the load evenly to improve stability.

Environment. Think about the immediate working environment. Is the floor uneven? Is the work being carried out in a cramped space? Are there slippery floors or poor lighting? Control measures to consider include removing obstructions and clearing the route, ensuring lighting is sufficient, and avoiding steps or steep ramps.

We know the control measures so why isn’tmanual handling controlled on site?
Manual handling is a significant and ongoing problem in the construction industry. One of the main barriers to safer manual handling is a lack of understanding among workers and their employers. The culture of keeping quiet and “pushing through” is prevalent across the industry and can have long-lasting debilitating effects.
In addition, the system of jobs are often tendered to contractors at a fixed price. This commercial pressure can push contractors to work as quickly as possible to maximise earnings, which may lead to corners being cut in the area of health and safety.
Significant cultural changes in construction practices are required to fully address this problem, but in the meantime job design factors and practical measures within the workplace can help reduce the risk from manual handling.

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