Bricklaying and manual handling
Manual handling injuries result in more lost time for bricklayers than any other type of injury. This document provides practical examples of how all stakeholders in the Building and Construction Industry can assist in reducing the risk of manual handling injuries to bricklayers.
- Legal obligations
- Designers and manufacturers
- Principal contractor
- Bricklayers and labourers
- Further information
Among all workers bricklayers have one of the highest risks of suffering from a manual handling injury, this being the largest single cause of injury resulting in time off work from bricklaying. As well as costing millions of dollars per annum these injuries result in pain and suffering to the injured worker and their families and a loss of experience, skills and productivity to the industry.
Manual handling injuries are caused by more than just lifting. Manual handling involves any activity requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain a person, animal or thing. Common manual handling activities that result in injuries among bricklayers and labourers include moving bricks around site, manually lifting and carrying lintels and laying bricks in awkward positions.
Manual handling problems need to be addressed systematically through the three-step process of:
- hazard identification (hazard means anything that may result in injury or harm to health);
- risk assessment (this involves looking at the possibility of injury or harm occurring to a person if exposed to a hazard. A number of manual handling risk factors, for example the weight of an object and the workers’ posture, need to be considered in this step); and
- risk control (this involves introducing measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of a person being injured or harmed. The hierarchy of control is elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering control, administration control, and personal protective equipment; note - more than one control can be used at one time to reduce the exposure to a manual handling hazard).
To get the best result everyone should be involved in the process. The Manual tasks code of practice [PDF 1.03mb] contains more detail on the manual handling risk management process and training requirements.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 contains general duties, which describe the responsibilities of people who affect safety and health at work. Employers, employees, self employed persons, persons who have control of workplaces, designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant and hazardous substances and designers and constructors of buildings or structures all have duties of care they must fulfil to comply with the legal requirements of the Act.
Regulation 3.4 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 specifically details the requirement to manage manual handling hazards in the workplace. The regulation outlines the three-step risk management process of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control.
Risks from manual handling can be avoided or minimised during the design stage. The duty of care of designers outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 places a legal obligation on Designers to ensure the design of the building or structure does not expose persons properly constructing, maintaining, repairing or servicing the building or structure to hazards. Designers therefore must consider the manual handling risks to bricklayers and labourers, which may arise from their designs and plan to reduce or eliminate the risks. Examples include:
- specify the lowest weight materials that meet the design criteria, for example where practicable specify the use of lightweight steel lintels for over wide openings;
- ensure the design allows enough space for access with mechanical lifting and handling equipment, eg if large lintels need to be installed in a renovation consider if there is adequate access for a crane to be used to lift the lintels;
- specify lifting points into the structure of building components such as lintels; and
ensure the specifications and plans are clearly marked with the weights of materials.
Manufacturers and suppliers of bricklaying products can assist in reducing manual handling risks to bricklayers and labourers. Examples include:
- manufacture the lightest product possible for the job, eg minimise the weight of internal wall bricks;
- reduce the weight of bagged products, eg reduce the size of cement bags from 40kg to 20kg;
secure the products so that the load doesn’t move unexpectedly, eg ensure the strapping on brick packs is secure enough to hold leaves of bricks together when they are moved around site;
mark the load to indicate the weight, eg, the weight of brick packs noted on the invoice, the weight of lintels marked on the lintel; and
- include purpose designed lifting points on the load to provide for the use of cranes or other mechanical lifting equipment.
Planning and coordination phase
The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 sets out a duty of care for the pincipal contractor. This Duty of Care requires safe systems of work to be established and maintained and be supported by adequate information, instruction, training and supervision. Correct planning can make sure safe systems of work are established and adequate information, instruction, training and supervision is provided. Good planning will avoid or reduce many of the manual handling hazards associated with bricklaying and will benefit the productivity of the job as well as promote safety. The following guidelines provide some practical ideas.
At the beginning of the job, it is essential to establish a clear access/egress way to allow for the safe movement of brick packs and other materials and equipment around the site, for example put limestone driveways in during the site preparation stage. As a minimum adequate access/egress ways must be established by using planks or other suitable alternatives.
Material delivery and storage areas should have enough space and lighting to allow for the safe movement of the materials. The ground conditions of storage and lay down areas should be even and compacted. The following should always be done:
- ensure the bricks and other materials are delivered as close as possible to the job, eg. the site supervisor can fax the site plans specifying delivery points to the brick delivery company with the brick order; and
- ensure the work area is flat level ground, i.e. make sure the slab area has a flat, compacted graded area around it to accommodate materials such as brick packs.
Selection of material
Selecting the materials that are lighter and easier to handle decreases the overall workload of the bricklayer and labourer. Examples include:
- always use the lightest brick product available for the job within design criteria; and
- provide 20kg bags of cement instead of 40kg bags of cement, or consider bulk cement alternatives, if appropriate.
Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment
Mechanical lifting and handling equipment must be considered to move brick packs, lintels, cement and other materials around the site. The provision and maintenance of the equipment should be planned for at the beginning of the job. Examples of equipment that may need to be considered and directly or indirectly budgeted for includes:
- the use of a crane or other mechanical lifting device to lift and place large lintels. A telehandler or hand-operated lift truck are other examples of mechanical lifting devices that can be utilised to place lintels;
- the use of a crane or other mechanical lifting device to move bricks up onto the first story slab;
- wheelbarrows specifically designed to move heavy loads such as a two wheeled barrow or a motorised barrow;
- brick trolleys specifically designed to move the brick packs;
- the use of hiabs, winches or ramps to load and unload work vehicles; and
- wheeled brick cutters.
Team lifting has inherent risks and does not provide an adequate long term solution for moving heavy materials. The heavier the materials the higher the risk of manual handling injury when team lifting. Team lifting is often neither time nor cost effective. Alternatives to team lifting should be considered during the planning phase. If team lifting is utilised all workers involved must be trained and the lift coordinated.
During the construction phase the principal contractor has a legal responsibility to ensure the maintenance of site safety. Safety and health policies and procedures, including the sub contractors’ individual responsibilities, should be established at the beginning of a project. Site inductions, appropriate information, instruction, training and ongoing supervision are required throughout the construction phase to ensure safe systems are achieved and maintained.
Working platform planks must be secured and maintained. Where practicable the working platform should allow bricklayers to complete their work in a good posture, i.e. between knee and shoulder height. Obstacles such as plumber’s pipes should be made highly visible to avoid injury.
The ongoing maintenance of clear routes to and from work areas to enable the safe movement of materials, equipment and people around site is essential. Adequate rubbish receptacles need to be provided and maintained in dedicated areas.
Good housekeeping on a site has many positive effects including increased harmony between different sub contractors, decreased probability of accidents and increased productivity. The site supervisor should ensure the work areas are free of obstructions that may prevent the safe movement of materials and people.
Sub contractors have individual responsibilities to manage site safety and health. All employees have a legal responsibility, to ensure their own safety and health at work and to avoid adversely affecting the safety and health of any other person. Some practical examples for bricklayers and labourers are outlined below.
Safe work practices - General
Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Examples of safe work practices for bricklayers include:
- the two key elements influencing the physical workload of bricklayers are the weight of the bricks and the posture of the bricklayer. Examples of work practices to reduce the time spent stooping or over stretching are:
- maximise the time spent laying bricks between knee and shoulder height by altering the height of the working platform when working from a scaffold whenever this is practicable;
- raise the mortarboard to reduce the time spent in a stooped posture; and
- always complete cutting work etc at approximately hip height;
- to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues, do warm up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the work day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the work day;
- do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely;
- use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (see above for examples of the equipment);
- always use the lightest tools/equipment for the job; and
- always seek assistance if necessary.
Safe work practices - Moving bricks and mortar
Bricks and mortar need to be moved around site. The loads can be very heavy and in some cases awkward to move. Some solutions include:
- generally never move wheelbarrows or brick trolleys through sand or over uneven terrain and always make sure that there is a clear access/egress. As a minimum there must be planks or other suitable alternatives in place;
- never hand ball bricks;
- always use wheelbarrows and trolleys designed for moving heavy loads such as bricks and mortar, for example a two-wheeled wheelbarrow. Consideration should be given to a motorised barrow, which can be used as a wheelbarrow and a brick trolley; and
- if the strapping on the packs of bricks is not holding the leaves of bricks together when they are being moved report it to the site supervisor to feedback to the manufacturers.
Safe work practices - Loading and unloading work vehicles
Heavy, awkward equipment, such as mixers need to be loaded and unloaded on a daily basis. To decrease the manual handling consider the following:
- use mechanical assistance such as a winch or hiab to load/unload the equipment;
- modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered; and/or
- have a vehicle with removable tailgate and sides.
Safe work practices - Mixing mortar
Strategies to minimise the physical workload associated with shovelling sand and moving bags of cement include:
- always use a trolley/wheelbarrow to move bags of cement rather than carrying them;
- never try to carry multiple bags of cement at one time;
- use both long and short handled shovels that best suit the task/person, eg use a long handled shovel if there is a large reach involved; and
- take regular breaks from continuous shovelling. If possible intersperse continuous digging with alternative tasks.
All workers involved in all trades on site have a responsibility for maintaining site tidiness. Routine, regular cleanups should be scheduled as part of the workday. Working on a tidy, well-maintained site makes the job easier and safer.
Training must be provided for all bricklayers and labourers involved in team lifting. The lift needs to be coordinated by a “leader”. Remember team lifting should not be considered an adequate long-term control. Team lifting in inherently dangerous and alternative solutions should be considered.
For further information on this publication, contact:
- Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia
- Unions WA
- Master Builders Association of Western Australia
- Housing Industry Association
- Group Training Australia, WA