So what is manual handling training? This article looks at what manual handling training is and also explores the legal requirements and advantages of manual handling training to employers.
Manual Handling in the Workplace
All businesses should be familiar with terms such as ‘Manual Handling’ and ‘Health and Safety’. However the mere mention of any type of Health & Safety legislation makes most people’s eyes roll and can elicit groans of frustration from those having to discuss them. But this should not be the case. The legislation governing manual handling training is extremely important and can impact directly on your business, your employees and even you personally. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the care and safety of the people who work for them and doing so not only benefits them but will also benefit your business as a whole.
So what is Manual Handling? It is defined in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR 1992) as …any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”.
…any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”.
When outlining the employer’s responsibilities for safe working practices the Health and Safety Executive say:
The MHOR 1992 establish a clear hierarchy of measures for dealing with risks from manual handling, these are: Avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable; assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided; and reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable.
Of course many practices in the workplace are now mechanised thus removing the risk of injury to a person. However, in some circumstances mechanisation is just not practical. In the instance of cleaning operations, for example, it is not possible to completely remove the risks of moving heavy objects or performing repetitive tasks. So manual handling in the workplace is always going to be a real issue. Before covering some of the basics of good working practice let’s examine why it is important that you do so.
Why Good Manual Handling Practice is Important
More than a third of injuries in the workplace that require an employee to be absent from work for more than 3 days are as a result of manual handling. A large proportion of these injuries relate to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), in other words: back injuries. The cost to businesses is massive. To begin with, there is the loss of workforce due to them being absent. Add to this the cost of sick pay and any possible court action and the cost to businesses can run into the thousands.
The booklet ‘Back in Work – NHS Employers’ states that:
…The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that sickness absence costs UK plc over £12 billion per year, of this sum £4.8 million is attributable to MSDs…
It may surprise you to realise that the document went on to disclose that
The highest compensation payment awarded to date was to an ambulance worker for a back injury. They received £140,000.
Clearly, then, abiding by your legal responsibilities as an employer is of benefit to you personally. Taking care to do things correctly will save your business money in the long run as damage to your employees and possible damage to your property will all cost you money. As an employer you are personally responsible for the welfare of your staff and if a manual handling injury occurs and you are found to be at fault, you could risk being fined. So what can you do?
Manual Handling Lifting Techniques
First of all, not all hazardous manual handling can be avoided. Sometimes heavy objects and loads require moving so the risk of injury needs to be reduced as far as is practically possible. One way to do this is to employ safe manual handling lifting techniques and to ensure your staff are taught how to lift objects safely. The following safe manual handling lifting technique is good for staff members that do not suffer from knee injuries. For staff that do have problems with their knees a slightly different lifting technique is required.
After assessing a load and thinking carefully about where the object needs to go; adopt a stable position over the load. Stand with your feet well apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other in order to maintain your balance easily. Keep your head up and slowly and smoothly bend your knees, keeping your back as straight as possible. Take a firm hold of the load on both sides and lift the load up to your centre of gravity, close to your waist. Avoid twisting your body, leaning to one side or stooping over a load as this can greatly increase the risk of a back injury. Slowly stand up straight, keeping the load as close to your waist as possible.
Avoid Poor Manual Handling Lifting Techniques
A quote from Nathan Bruton, Managing Director at LeBreton Training
Poor lifting techniques attribute the majority of back injuries in the workplace. Effective manual handling training will limit the chances of injury and is essential training for your workforce. Preventing accidents and injury is a moral and legal obligation for any employer and in addition will actually make your business more profitable. Time off work, damage to stock and equipment and potential litigation costs can all be avoided by ensuring your staff have sufficient manual handling training.
There is no single correct way to lift heavy objects. Each circumstance is different and there are many variables and environmental factors that will affect the risk. For instance:
- The weight of the load – Is the load heavy? Even if a load is not heavy, frequent repetitions of light loads can cause injury.
- Position of the load – Is the load on the floor or is it on a high shelf? Does the load require a person to bend sideways or twist their upper body?
- Restraints – Does a person have a restricted space in which to work in and therefore hindered movement?
- Grip – Can the person get a good grip on the load or is it bulky and difficult to carry?
- Environment – Is the workplace clean and dry, particularly the floor and is the lighting good? Or is the floor uneven or slippery and is the lighting poor?
The above example highlights the need for good risk assessment. No two circumstances are the same and every business is different.
Risk Assessment for Manual Handling
Employers are legally obligated to carry out risk assessments in the workplace. So what exactly is a risk assessment? Basically it is an examination that identifies things that could harm people whilst in their place of work. They can help prevent an accident or injury before they even occur by identifying possible risks and finding ways to deal with them. Doing risk assessments can save your business time and money by preventing accidents and injuries from occurring thereby reducing costs that result from loss of work, sick pay and compensation claims. A risk assessment for manual handling is no different from any other kind of risk assessment.
The process of risk assessment for manual handling involves:
- Looking for potential hazards
- Deciding who is at risk of harm
- Evaluating the risk of the potential hazard and identifying whether more can be done to lower the risk
- Keeping a record of potential hazards and relaying that information to your employees
- Continually reviewing the risk assessment particularly if there is an injury as a result of an identified hazard.
When specifically looking at risk assessment for manual handling hazards the main areas to focus on in a risk assessment are the task, the load, the working environment and the individuals’ capabilities.
Employers have a duty of care, as well as a legal obligation, to ensure that their staff have a safe working environment and have received all the training that they require. It is an employers’ duty to identify any hazardous manual handling tasks and to remove the risks of these wherever possible. This can be achieved by installing lifts so that heavy loads do not need to be moved up and down stairs for example. In instances where the risk cannot be eliminated then adequate risk assessments need to be carried out and the risks of injury reduced. As far as reasonably practical it is the duty of the employer to provide any tools or objects required for the task, to ensure the workplace layout and environment is safe and to review the risk assessments should circumstances change.
At the same time an employee has a duty to take reasonable care of themselves and of others when in the workplace. An employee needs to be aware of their own health and safety and will need to be aware of anyone who may be affected by their work. It is an employees’ responsibility to cooperate with their employer. An employee must attend any health and safety training provided for them and must use any equipment provided properly and in the way for which it was intended. An employee must report hazards that they become aware of to their employer.
After briefly touching on this area of health and safety in the workplace, it is clear that employers have a responsibility to keep themselves up to date with the latest practises and legislation. Keeping the workplace safe, reducing the risk of injury to employees and staying informed of your legal responsibilities as an employer can all save you and your business money. So don’t bury your head in the sand and see Health and Safety as a ‘bit of a bore’, stay informed, keep your employees training up to date, perform adequate risk assessments and keep your workplace safe. It pays to get things right the first time.