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The Challenges of Manual Handling in the Workplace

What are the challenges of manual handling?

One of the main challenges that come with manual handling has to be the myths that are associated with manual handling and how they are believed by those who are carrying out the tasks.

If they believe that manual handling is not that important, then there is a good chance that they won’t follow the set guidelines, which can then put them at risk of injury.

Many employees also don’t think that they have time to follow manual handling techniques, instead, they focus on “getting the job done quickly” which will also put them at risk of injury.

The Importance of Addressing Manual Handling Challenges

In order to ensure that manual handling is done in a way that is safe and keeps everyone protected it is important to identify the main challenges and then address them. Simply by acknowledging that they are an issue you are going to be one step closer to protecting those in the workplace.

Understanding Manual Handling

One of the main things that you need to know when it comes to manual handling is what is actually meant by manual handling and what it may mean for you as a business owner or employer.

Types of Manual Handling Tasks

The best place to start is to identify what the main types of manual handling tasks are. These can vary depending on the industry and the types of tasks that are carried out there on a day-to-day basis.

Some of the main types of manual handling tasks include: Lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, moving and carrying loads. These loads could be boxes, packages, people or animals. It may be something that is pulled or pushed including roll cages and pallet trucks too.

Common Industries Affected

Whilst any industry can need to perform manual handling activities as part of their day-to-day work, there are likely to be some industries that are more affected by manual handling than others.

These include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Hospitality
  • Office workers

The Impact of Manual Handling Challenges

There are a number of impacts that can occur due to manual handling challenges. For the most part, these impacts are on the person who is completing the work, but the impacts can definitely move much wider than this.

Physical Health Risks

The most common effects of not following correct manual handling procedures will be on your physical health and well-being. This can be throughout the entire body and can vary from short-term to long-term issues.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

One of the most frequently reported manual handling injuries is musculoskeletal. This impacts the muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues within the body. More often than not a musculoskeletal disorder is going to cause pain and discomfort, however, over time it can also cause a loss of function in the person who is impacted by it.

Strains and Sprains

As well as longer-term musculoskeletal disorders, another common impact on your body from a lack of proper manual handling is strains and sprains. This can be quite painful and cause the person to have a number of days (or even weeks of work in some cases) however, they are often shorter term in their nature.

Psychological Effects

As well as having a negative impact on the body, a lack of manual handling can also cause some psychological effects on the person.

Stress and Fatigue

They may feel stressed at the idea that they need to perform certain tasks within their working day that may cause them to feel pain or discomfort. They may also feel tired and fatigued because they are simply doing those tasks on a regular basis and feel that they are not getting enough of a break from them.

Mental Health Implications

Any form of injury can cause you to have a reduction in your mental health. However, if an injury continues for some time, particularly if is causing you pain, then this is likely to have a much bigger impact on your mental health. This can even extend over a much longer time period.

Regulatory Framework

In order to try and keep as many people as safe as possible when it comes to performing manual handling tasks, there have been regulatory frameworks created to guide employers and business owners in what they need to do in order to stay compliant.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidelines

OSHA guidelines are set to ensure that anyone who is working is protected by their employers in a range of ways. It identifies that employers have a duty of care for those who work for them, which also includes ensuring that they are safe when they are carrying out tasks that are related to manual handling.

Image of a retail employee lifting boxes for Learn Q The Challenges of Manual Handling in the Workplace blogInternational Standards for Manual Handling

The International Standards for Manual Handling specify the limits for manual lifting and carrying. This takes into account the intensity of the work that is being carried out as well as how frequently it is being carried out.

By following those standards, business owners are able to keep their employees as safe as possible and protect them from the risks that relate to manual handling.

Legal Implications for Non-Compliance

If you are not compliant with the Standards, Regulations and Guidelines that are set out in relation to manual handling then you are putting yourself and your business at risk of legal implications.

The type of implication will depend on the severity of the non-compliance and the outcome of it too. This could be a fine, or it could be prison time too. Either way, it is not something that should be risked.

Common Challenges in Manual Handling

Manual handling, by its very nature, is a part of working life that can often be faced with a number of challenges. This means that you need to not only be aware of what these challenges may be but also what you can then do to try and reduce the impact that they have.

Heavy Lifting and Awkward Postures

One main challenge in manual handling is that the item that needs to be lifted is particularly heavy. If this is the case, then it is recommended that the lift is made with more than one person working as a team. This will balance out the weight and reduce the possible risk.

The other risk is awkward postures. However, the correct position and posture can be taught as a part of manual handling training. So long as you understand what the right approach and method is.

Identification of Risk Factors

Some of the challenges that are faced with manual handling occur in the early stages of the process. Failure to properly identify risk factors, or not consider the risk factors as serious as they are, can then lead to possible incidents, accidents and injuries.

You should never rush through the risk identification part of the process, as this can sometimes be what makes a difference between good and bad manual handling practices.

Prevention Strategies

You should always think about how you can prevent manual handling incidents from happening. Whilst there are going to be times when you will need to be reactive to something happening, and then make changes for the future, if you can try to be as proactive as possible, then you will make the chance of the incidents happening much lower.

Implementing Effective Educational Programmes

A key part of manual handling and the techniques that it implements is educating the people who are going to use them correctly. This means that you need to encourage those who it relates to, to engage with what is being shown to them. It can be hard to think about an effective educational programme, but we can assure you that if you do make the effort, then this can go a long way to make manual handling followed in your workplace.

Inadequate Equipment and Tools

Whilst much of the manual handling tasks that are carried out will be by a person, there is always a chance that they will require equipment and tools that are

going to help to make their job easier.

The thing to remember with this is that the tools or equipment that they use have to be suitable for the work that they are doing. If it is not, then this could actually increase the risk of an injury from occurring.

Image of warehouse workers lifting a box for Learn Q The Challenges of Manual Handling in the Workplace blogAssessing and Upgrading Tools

If you do use tools to make manual handling in your workplace easier then you are going to need to assess that they are suitable for the work that is to be carried out. If you feel that they are not, or something has changed that means that you need to amend the tools that you use, then you should ensure that this is upgraded.

Technological Solutions

One piece of good news for those who perform manual handling tasks is that there are always advancements made in order to make it easier.

Technology is there to make our lives easier, this includes the manual handling tasks that we might have to carry out. It is important that you learn not only what these technological solutions are, but also how they are going to be able to help you too.

Strategies for Mitigating Manual Handling Challenges

Whilst some manual handling challenges may seem straightforward to get through and mitigate, there are others that you may need to consider the best way around.

Ergonomic Workstations and Design

Ergonomic design is there to help protect those who carry out certain tasks on a regular basis. They are mostly offered in the form of desks and chairs, but any form of workplace equipment can be ergonomic. The idea is that they are designed to fit with a person and their own needs, this could mean that it helps with their posture, or provides the right level of support for certain parts of their body.

Lack of Training and Awareness

If you worry that one of the main manual handling challenges that you face as a business is a lack of understanding about what manual handling is and how to apply it, then this can be changed with training.

Providing training to your employees will ensure that they are aware of manual handling and how it is there to help them in their everyday work and to keep them safe too.

Employee Training and Education

Employees should be offered training that relates to manual handling. This should include what the risks are and what techniques can be adapted in order to make living, carrying and moving items safer.

Importance of Regular Training Sessions

Whilst training on manual handling should always be a part of an induction programme, this doesn’t mean that you should never repeat the training again. In fact, manual handling is the type of training that needs to be repeated on a regular basis, to keep it fresh.

It is down to you to decide how often this training needs to be for you, however, yearly or every other year is often the suggested amount.

Creating a Safety Culture

One of the best ways to ensure that manual handling procedures are followed is to create a culture of safety in your workplace. Encourage employees to not only think about what safety measures they can implement for themselves but also the measures that they can put in place for those around them.

Over time this should become second nature and therefore manual handling will be something that you all just do without thinking.

Workplace Policies and Procedures

There are certain legislations that relate to manual handling which have to be followed, but workplaces should have their own policies and procedures to ensure that they are compliant.

By creating these, you are showing your employees what you are dedicated to doing for their safety and encouraging them to be aware of what they need to do too. It can also be more tailored to the type of work that you do.

Developing Comprehensive Guidelines

A part of these policies and procedures is to include guidelines that your employees are expected to follow. These should relate to your own policies and be something that they understand and can ensure that they are working within.

Enforcing Compliance

Once employees understand what their responsibilities are, then you can start to think about whether or not they are being compliant with them. You also need to ensure that you, as a workplace, are compliant with the regulations that are set out for you. This may be something that you find that you need to repeat on a regular basis as things can and do change over time.

Positive Impact on Employee Well-being and Productivity

If you do ensure that manual handling is something that you encourage in your workplace, then you are sure to see a positive impact.

Employees are going to feel that they are taken care of and that their well-being is a key consideration for you as an employer. They will feel that they are loyal to you as a business and they will want to do their very best for you and carry out their key tasks to the best that they can.

Future Trends and Innovations

Much like many things in life and business, the world of manual handling is always changing and growing. Whilst this may mean that you need to make the effort to stay on top of these changes, it also means that you can find ways to make manual handling even easier in your workplace.

Advancements in Technology for Manual Handling

There is a wealth of technological advancements that can be applied to manual handling, but one of the main ones to know about is AI. AI and wearable technology can help to monitor safety when carrying out manual handling tasks and alert workers to certain aspects of their own technique, including their posture and the position that they are in when they are lifting or moving.

Emerging Best Practices in the Industry

Whilst there is already lots of advice out there in manual handling designed to give you best practice, there is always a chance that best practice can change.

It is important that you are aware of what these best practices are and that you promote them within your business. That way, you can be sure that you are following the latest guidelines and that your employees are going to be as safe as possible whilst they are working.

Potential Impact on Workplace Safety

The main thing to remember is that advancements that are made in manual handling, whether it is technology or best practice is that you are going to be able to keep employees safe and show them how to keep themselves safe too.

Any way that you can improve workplace safety is a positive thing and can help to improve workers’ well-being both physical and mental.

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