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The Importance of Safe Manual Handling

Manual handling is a part of health and safety that is so often overlooked and thought to not be particularly important. However, this is something that is causing a variety of injuries throughout different industries up and down the UK.

We believe that manual handling is something that you must be aware of. No matter what type of work that you do. Even the lightest of loads can be a risk when they are not properly handled. This is why the correct training and knowledge are needed.

The Main Risks Associated with Manual Handling

So, what are the main risks that are associated with manual handling? There are a number of them and they will depend on the nature of the work that you do and how often you repeat repetitive lifting and moving tasks in your work.

The most common manual handling injuries are:

  • Back injuries
  • Foot injuries
  • Neck injuries
  • Strains and sprains
  • Hand injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Slips and trips
  • Falls
  • Lacerations and cuts

All of these can be caused by a lack of understanding of manual handling and what you need to do to make sure that you keep yourself safe and protected.

What is Manual Handling?

The best place to start when it comes to manual handling is to understand the basics of what it is and what it means for you in your everyday work.

The idea of manual handling is when you transport or support a load by hand or using your bodily force. Even if this then uses machines or equipment to support you in that movement.

Types of Manual Handling Activities

There are several manual handling activities that you may not realise fall under that remit. These include lifting, lowering, pushing and pulling. It also includes moving a load, often by carrying it from place to place; or by pushing or pulling it to where it needs to be.

You may think that these loads are always going to be boxes, but they can vary in type, size and weight too.

Image of two workers lifting a crate for Learn Qs Safe Manual Handling Risks and Procedures blogCommon Industries and Jobs Involving Manual Handling

Whilst any job can include an element of manual handling in some form, there are key industries that are identified as involving more manual handling perhaps than others.

These include healthcare, construction and retail.

Why is Manual Handling Safety Important?

Considering that many of us are short on time in our working lives, it makes sense that manual handling can, at times, be pushed to the back of the importance list. However, this is not the right approach to take manual handling safety is a key part of your overall health and safety plans.

Reducing Workplace Injuries and Absenteeism

One of the main things that manual handling training will do is reduce the risk of workplace injuries from occurring. Of course, the main thing that comes with this is that your employees are kept safe, great news for them. However, the fewer people who are getting injured in a workplace due to a lack of manual handling understanding, then the less absenteeism there will be.

When people are absent from work, this puts pressure on the rest of the team and will impact the efficiency of the work that is carried out.

Impact on Employee Health and Well-being

Another key thing to consider when it comes to manual handling is that it can, when not followed properly, have a real impact on the health and well-being of your employees. If they have proper manual handling training, they understand what they need to do to keep themselves safe. This will have an impact on their overall health, particularly when you consider the long-term injuries that can be caused by a lack of manual handling techniques.

This also then helps improve well-being among employees. They feel happy in their work, they feel healthy and they feel that their safety and well-being a key considerations for you as a business owner too.

Legal and Financial Implications for Employers

The main consideration in following manual handling training is that you may find that your employees are injured whilst they are doing their everyday work. However, you should also be aware that if you do not follow the right training and ensure that your employees do, then you may face some legal and financial implications too.

Breaching health and safety regulations in general, manual handling included, is a criminal offence, which means that if you are found guilty of this then you may face fines and prison sentences.

What are the Main Risks of Manual Handling?

To encourage employees to properly follow the manual handling rules and guidelines, you should highlight the main risks that can be attributed to it and what it can mean for them.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

One of the most common risks that come with manual handling is musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. These can vary in type, however, it seems that MSDs that relate to the lower back are amongst the most seen.

Sprains, Strains, and Fractures

Another common risk that comes with manual handling is sprains, strains and fractures. These are often caused by the twisting or stretching of a muscle, tendon or bone during the lifting or carrying of an item.

Image of lifting a create in a warehouse for Learn Qs Safe Manual Handling Risks and Procedures blogAccidents and Falls

A fall or an accident can often happen when you are not properly following manual handling guidelines. This is because you will have not properly planned your route (and taken into account the potential risk factors on the way) which can lead to you tripping over something.

Long-term Health Implications

Whilst many of the risks and implications from manual handling will be more short-term and can be recovered from relatively quickly, some are longer-term. They may take more time to recover or they may end up taking longer to show symptoms too. This doesn’t mean that they are any less severe.

Manual Handling Legislation and Regulations

To ensure that businesses know what their responsibilities are when it comes to manual handling, both legislation and regulations have been created.

One is more general, whilst one is more focused on manual handling.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The first is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This is a general Act that covers a variety of aspects of health and safety in workplaces throughout the UK. The main focus of the act is to ensure that employers provide a working environment that is safe for people to work in or visit.

The act also ensures that employers always look out for their employees, no matter what their line of work is.

Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 1992

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations regulations were created in 1992 as a way to focus closely on manual handling and what needs to happen to keep everyone safe in the workplace.

The regulations set out that employers should carry out risk assessments and make sure that there are appropriate measures in place when it comes to performing both carrying and lifting work.

Risk Assessment: Manual Handling

One of the first things that you are going to need to make sure that you do with manual handling in a workplace is to carry out regular risk assessments on the workplace and the tasks that are carried out too.

The Purpose of Manual Handling Risk Assessment

The purpose of a manual handling risk assessment is to identify the possible risk areas and factors that can impact the safety of the person lifting/moving the load and those around them too.

These are likely to be things that are not hugely obvious, but that when missed, could cause a real issue for those that it happens to.

Steps in Conducting a Risk Assessment

To carry out a proper risk assessment, you should always be aware of the main steps that need to be followed and why they are important.

The first step in conducting a risk assessment is to think about the loads that are being lifted and/or moved. How heavy are they? Are they tricky to hold?

Next, you need to consider the person. Who is most likely to perform this task? What risks are associated with them?

Third, it is to think about the actual task. What type of movement needs to happen? Why and how quickly?

Finally, you need to consider the environment. What risks does this pose? What possible trips, slips or falls could happen when the load is being moved?

Image of a worker lifting a crate in a warehouse for Learn Q Safe Manual Handling Risks and Procedures blogInvolvement of Employees in the Risk Assessment Process

Whilst someone who is trained in health and safety must carry out the manual handling risk assessment, this doesn’t mean that they should not ask the employees for their thoughts.

Employees are likely to be the people who are doing the work, therefore, what they think and what concerns them the most about it, is something that should always be considered.

The Correct Procedures for Manual Handling

One of the key factors of manual handling is that the correct procedures are known and followed. Failure to do so can put the person who is lifting the load at risk of a variety of injuries.

The Importance of Following Established Procedures

Established procedures are there for a reason. They are created to give guidance on what needs to happen, in this case, for manual handling.

Procedures are likely to show you the correct techniques that you need to follow and the steps that you need to take before you even think about lifting the load to keep you safe.

Employees must be reminded of this procedure regularly so that they can always know what is expected of them.

Use of Mechanical Aids and Equipment

There are a variety of mechanical aids and equipment out there that are designed to make manual handling safer. These should, where possible, be offered to staff in the business and they should be encouraged to use them when they can.

It is important to ensure that staff don’t see these tools as a way to forget the basics of manual handling training.

Team Handling and Communication

Sometimes a load is too heavy or awkward to carry alone. This means that a team is needed to move it. Team handling can be a great way to easily move something from A to B, but, seeing as you now have more people to be concerned about, it requires rather intense and complete communication too.

Everyone should know what they need to do and how they fit into the process too.

Correct Manual Handling Techniques

It is vitally important that every person in a business understands the correct manual handling techniques. These should be regularly refreshed so that when they come across a load that they need to lift or move, they always know how best to approach it.

Lifting and Carrying Techniques

The main thing to remember when it comes to manual handling lifting is that you should keep a good posture throughout. You should avoid twisting or bending your body and you should always keep your feet apart and stable at all times.

The load should also be kept as close to your body as you can, as this will help you with your balance too. If equipment is available, or you can work as a team to lift, then this should be something that you consider.

Proper Body Mechanics

To lift safely, you should always lift using your legs, rather than your back. You should lift with a straight back and with your legs bent. Your buttocks should be sticking out and your head will always lift first, followed by your straight back.

Handling Awkward and Heavy Loads Safely

If a load is awkward or heavy, then you may need to approach the lift somewhat differently. You should, where possible, ensure that you have machinery or equipment that will help you to lift safely. If this is not possible then you should think about operating a team lift instead.

You could also reduce the size, breaking it down into smaller loads, if you can. If the load is slippery, or you have reduced grip, then you should try to use gloves to help you keep hold of it as you lift.

Manual Handling Awareness and Training

With the many things to learn in a work environment, it is easy to see why manual handling awareness and training get pushed down the list. However, it is an important part of training, not only as a one-off but ongoing too.

The Importance of Manual Handling Training

Without proper manual handling training, we simply cannot expect workers to take charge of keeping themselves safe whilst they are working. If they do not know what they need to do during a lift, then they may lift in a way that is not safe, putting themselves at risk of injury.

Frequency and Content of Manual Handling Training

Every new person who joins a business should have manual handling training as a part of their induction. It is thought that two years is enough to refresh manual handling and to ensure that everyone feels that they know what they need to do, however, if you want to ensure that this is the case, then it may be best to repeat this training (even if it is just the basics or an overview) every year.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptation of Training

Whilst delivering the training in the first place is a great place to start, training should always be fit for purpose. You should look at the training that you have currently been providing to your employees and whether it is fit for purpose.

You may need to improve some areas or adapt them to fit with the training that is relevant to your business and the staff within it.

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