Injuries can occur in any workplace. Whether you work inside or outdoors, in a school, from home, in a warehouse, or in an office, workplace injuries come in all shapes and sizes. They can range from simple paper cuts, to more serious medical emergencies. One of the biggest causes of workplace-related injuries is incorrect manual handling.
Manual handling may not be an immediately familiar term to many, but it’s something most people do every day, be it as part of their jobs or just in their daily lives. As manual handling is something so unavoidably common, the team at First Aid Pro has created this comprehensive guide on how to best prevent and respond to manual handling related injuries.
Following is everything you need to know about what manual handling is, how to do it correctly, how to avoid workplace injuries, and how to respond when an injury does occur.
What is Manual Handling?
Manual handling is the lifting, carrying, or relocating of a load of any object or material. In workplace terms a load can refer to any object or product which needs to be moved somewhere else for any reason, it doesn’t necessarily need to be heavy or difficult to move.
Loads can range from printer paper, to large boxes, or furniture. Even something as simple as bringing the groceries inside when you get home constitutes a form of manual handling. Whatever you’re moving, if there’s too much weight or if it’s not evenly distributed, it can cause stress and strain to parts of your body.
Manual handling permeates all walks of life. Just about everyone has heard the phrase “lift with your knees, not with your back,” and while this is an important manual handling technique, there is much more to doing it than just lifting and carrying a load correctly. Other good manual handling techniques include:
- Plan out the carry; assess the size of the load, the distance to move it, and any assistance you might need
- Bend properly, bending at the knees with your body and feet centred
- Never overburdening yourself with a load
- Setting the object down gently in a manner similar to how you first picked it up
- Using an manual handling tools or equipment that are available
Using good manual handling techniques keeps us safe and in good physical health, but there’s still a lot more to it than just how you position your body. To ensure you’re always at your best, consider taking a manual handling course, or even a refresher course if you already understand the basics.
Incorrect Manual Handling
Manual handling is important for preventing workplace injuries, but what exactly can go wrong when the best practices aren’t followed? To understand the consequences of improper manual handling, it is important to first look at some of the most common, injury-causing mistakes people make. These include:
- Poor posture
- Bending or twisting the body in painful ways
- Not resting
- Forcing oneself to unnecessarily repeat repetitive motions
- Overexerting oneself by lifting or carrying overly heavy loads
- Carrying loads in such a way that its pressure applies to specific points on the body rather than being distributed evenly
- Keeping the body in the same position for extended periods
These kinds of manual handling mistakes can lead to musculoskeletal injuries gradually or even right away. It is therefore important to begin with correct manual handling practices or to improve one’s technique right away to prevent injuries from occurring. Common consequences of repeated poor manual handling include:
- Sprains and strains to muscles, ligaments, and tendons
- Back problems
- Broken bones
- Nerve and tissue injuries
- Development of acute or chronic pain
When a manual handling injury occurs in the workplace, it negatively affects not only the person and their quality of life, but it also incurs financial expenses and the business can fall behind due to reduced manpower. While this may seem insignificant compared to a potentially severe injury it is important to note that the effects of an injury extend further than one might expect and can affect a great many more people than you initially realise.
However you see the problem of workplace injuries, the best course of action is to invest in their prevention.
Ergonomics: Prioritising Safety and Comfort
Implementing ergonomic work equipment and practices is an invaluable approach for preventing injuries related to manual handling. Ergonomics is the practice of optimising efficiency and productivity while simultaneously prioritising the safety and comfort of one’s employees by reducing physical demands placed upon them. SOme of the simplest ways to implement ergonomic practices for manual handling tasks include:
- Minimising the distance required to lift or lower loads
- Moving any pallets to a height which enables workers to remove loads from them at body level, thus reducing stress on their bodies
- Removing any conditions where workers are required to bend at the waist to lift a load
- Ensuring the availability of lifting devices for moving larger and heavier loads
By incorporating these simple ergonomic principles, workplaces can create safer environments for their employees, promote wellbeing, enhance worker productivity, and reduce the risk of manual handling injuries.
Managing Physical Stress and Burnout
Manual handling is predominantly a physical activity. This means it’s effectively a form of exercise, even when moving small, easy to carry loads. Like other forms of exercise, one key way to avoid injuries is by looking after your body by warming up, cooling down, and taking breaks.
Warming up doesn’t have to constitute anything too strenuous, especially not when handling a smaller or lighter load. By knowing yourself, your body, and its limits, it should be easy to tell whether a load will be easy enough for you to handle without warming up first, as well as whether it can be handled all in one go or if you need assistance.
Continue to listen to yourself and your body while performing manual handling tasks. Ask yourself if your body is telling you to stop and take a break, and do so if you feel the need. During longer tasks, ensure you periodically sit down and take a break, drinking water if necessary, especially when working in a warmer environment.
When handling more challenging loads, regardless of how confident you feel, you should always stretch a little to warm up first. After handling the load, check in with yourself; consider any strains you feel and cool down to avoid any long term wear and tear to your body.
Always take a break after a manual handling task. Remember, rest isn’t a reward for a job well done, it’s a necessary part of life. Especially when handling heavier, more challenging, or multiple loads, listen to your body when it tells you to stop. Pushing yourself too hard can only lead to injuries and strains.
Innovations in Safety
In addition to manual handling techniques and practices, there are a wide variety of tools and equipment available to make these tasks easier. Most manual handling technology exists to aid people with excessively heavy or large loads they could not reasonably move by themselves in an efficient or safe manner. Among these tools are:
- Pallet jacks
- Hand trucks
- Lift table
- Scissor lifts and scissor trolleys
- Hand stackers
Other, more everyday manual handling equipment includes simple things like ladders, trolleys, gloves, helmets, and high visibility clothing. In the end, manual handling is all about common sense.
Manual Handling First Aid
Unfortunately, no matter how thorough you are in trying to prevent manual handling injuries, accidents will always happen. It’s just a fact of life. So when something does go wrong, it’s important to be prepared to deal with it by knowing how to perform first aid.
When a workplace injury occurs, calling emergency services for help is the most important step. But as you wait for them to arrive, the next most useful thing you can do is provide first aid to the injured person, so long as you’ve been certified by successfully completing a professionally delivered first aid course.
First aid courses go hand in hand with manual handling courses when it comes to providing a safe workplace. By undertaking a first aid course, you can learn not only how to help someone with a manual handling injury, but also how to aid others across a wide range of other possible events. First aid is a vital skill that can help you help others, and maybe even save a life. But only if you prepare yourself with the knowledge first.