Nearly all jobs require you to lift or carry items on a daily basis, most of the time, this happens without fuss or harm. Unfortunately accidents still happen on a very regular basis across the UK. Manual handling is defined as the supporting or transporting of a load manually (e.g. by hand or by use of bodily force). This can include but is not limited to lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying or putting down a load.
Every year thousands of people in the UK suffer a manual handling injury in their workplace, varying from minor injuries to serious long term injuries. Nearly all jobs require employees to carry an items from time to time, whether it be a laptop or parcel, most of the time this happens without any injury being suffered. Unfortunately, accidents will, and do still happen on a regular basis across the UK.
What is manual handling?
Manual handling is defined as the supporting or transporting of a load manually (e.g. by hand or by use of bodily force). This can include but is not limited to lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying, or putting down a load.
Many of the tasks we do on a daily basis require manual handling, whether it be carrying files around an office, carrying materials around a construction site, or picking up your child. More often than not manual handling injuries are caused by incorrect methods and not knowing your own limit.
Manual handling injuries in the UK
Manual handling injuries fall into the category of work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), other causes of WRMSDs include awkward/tiring positions, keyboard work or repetitive action, workplace accident and stress-related.
Between 2009-10 and 2011-12 the average number of musculoskeletal disorders per 100,000 workers was 1,680. Manual handing is reported to have caused 740 of these injuries which equates to around 44%.
Work related musculoskeletal disorders are more common injuries for those between the ages of 45-54 and those over 55. During the period of 2015-16 and 2017-18 males in the age categories 45-54 and 55+ suffered significantly higher rates than the average with 2,120 cases and 2,190 cases per 100,000 workers respectively. Females in the same age ranges also had significantly higher rates with 1,960 and 2,220 cases per 100,000 workers respectively.
WRMSDs represent around 25% of all days lost due to work-related ill health in Great Britain in 2017/18, this equates to 6.5 million lost days. Out of this 6.5 million, work related upper limb disorders account for around 2.6 million days lost, with back disorders around 2.2 million and lower limb disorders causing 1.7 million.
Is manual handling training a legal requirement
Yes, manual handling training is a legal requirement in any workplace where staff are required to do any lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying, or lowering of loads. Most workplaces will need to provide at least basic training with those who work in a high risk level environment should receive additional training.
What are the risks of manual handling?
Given that manual handling causes over a third of all workplace injuries it is apparent the risks of manual handling in the workplace are often over looked. These injuries often happen when we are least expecting them, we lift and carry things all the time without issue so we don’t expect anything to go wrong.
Manual handling injuries vary in seriousness and while some can be minor others can be life changing. We’ve listed 7 common manual handling injuries to look out for in your workplace.
When completing a manual handling task your back is the weakest part of your body. If you have a poor lifting technique or are attempting to lift more than your body can handle you can cause serious injury to your back.
Although it’s not just while trying to lift that back injuries can occur, once you’re carrying the load you should take extra care as the strain on your back is increased significantly. Stooping or twisting can also make you more vulnerable to injury.
Strains and sprains
When you over work your body by attempting to move a load which may be heavier than you expected, or simply harder to grip than you first anticipated you can overstretch your muscles. This can cause inflammation, bruising and pain, often this will occur in the back, arms, or wrists.
We all use our hands on a day to day basis, we would struggle to perform many daily tasks without them in fact. Whatever type of manual handling activity you carry out it is more than likely you will be using your hands to grip the item. This turns the item into a hazard in itself if the item has sharp edges you can easily cut your hand as you form a grip.
Not all injuries to your hands occur from direct contact with the item if the item you’re handling is putting excess pressure on a bone or an area of skin you could cause bruising or break a bone. Fingers can easily be trapped underneath an item while putting it down, or between the item and an obstacle such as a door frame.
Although it may sound strange for a foot injury to be caused by poor manual handling but in most of the cases in which a victim breaks a bone it is usually in the foot. These are often caused by the dropping of the load onto a foot, injuries can be serious if protective footwear is now being used.
Covering a range of different issues and pains musculoskeletal disorders are broken into three categories, upper limb disorders (e.g. shoulders, neck, arms, and wrists), lower limb disorders (e.g. hips, legs, and toes) and back injuries.
Unlike other injuries, musculoskeletal disorders tend to happen over a longer period of time, it can be caused by repetitive lifting leading to damage, pain and or stiffness in tissue and joints. They are the result of one of more of these tissues having to work harder than they are designed to.
Slip, trip and fall injuries
Whether you are carrying out a manual handling task or not, slips, trips and falls can happen at any time. But should a slip, trip or fall occur while you are carrying an item the injuries can be much more significant and the chance of an accident occurring can be increased.
If your visibility is blocked by the item you are carrying you are likely to find it difficult to see any potential hazards, especially if they are at ground level. Before you carry out any manual handling task a risk assessment should be carried out to identify any hazards which need to be minimised.
A hernia is the medical term used when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall. Hernias often occur after repeated strain on the tummy area. Over straining while lifting loads heavier than you can handle can cause hernias and the risk’s increase as you get older.
Most hernias will not get better without surgery and can cause varying amounts of pain.
What should employers do to protect employees?
Employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their staff, employers also have a legal duty to follow the Manual Handling Operations Regulations. These regulations were put in place to protect employees from injuries due to manual handling in the workplace.
Although there is no such thing as a ‘no lifting’ policy within the regulations, they instead state that manual handling should only be performed when it is absolutely necessary and once the risks have been assessed and minimised where possible.
The best way for employers to ensure the safety of staff in the workplace is to ensure they adhere to three rules, which are:
Avoid manual handling wherever possible
The most effective method of ensuring the employees are not injured while manual handling is to avoid all manual handling. This can include using machinery or other equipment (e.g. lifts and trolleys) to complete the task at hand or assist at very least.
However, it’s acknowledged that there are instances where avoidance is not possible.
Assess the risk of manual handling where it is required
Where avoidance is not an option and manual handling is the only option, an assessment should be performed to ensure that any remaining risks are minimised.
When completing a risk assessment employees should focus on the main areas of:
- The task in hand
- The load involved
- The working environment
- The individuals involved capability
Within this, factors to consider include:
- Whether the activity involves twisting, bending, sudden movement and the distance of travel required
- The size and weight of the load
- The space available to perform the activity in and the conditions of the area (wet, slippery, etc)
- The strength and height of the individual
Reduce the risk of injury
To reduce the risk of injury employees should take into considerations such as whether or not more than one person can perform the task, could the loads be made smaller and whether the distance of travel could be reduced.
Employers should also provide their employees with manual handling training to ensure they know the safe way to lift objects. Just by doing this, employers could see a vast reduction in the number of injuries that occur in the workplace, with vast majority of injuries sustained due to poor handling techniques.