Common hazardous manual tasks

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There are many manual tasks that are likely to be hazardous if the risks are not adequately managed. Some of these include people handling; handling heavy, large, awkward and bulky items; intensive computer use, moving trolleys and stacking shelves.

People handling

People handling relates to workplace activities in which a person is physically moved, supported or restrained. People handling requires someone to use force in order to lift, lower, push, pull or slide another person. This manual task is performed across many industries including, health care, aged care, community care, emergency services, education and child care.

All people handling tasks are a potential source of injury, and associated risks should be assessed and managed.

No worker should fully lift a person, other than a small child, without assistance from the person being moved, mechanical aids, devices or another worker.

Consider the health and safety of both the people doing the handling and the person being handled.

Sources of risks

The sources of the risks are not different to other manual tasks and a risk management should be adopted to address the risk factors that originate from these various sources. The sources of risks include:

The nature of the load (ie person)

  • Mobility limitations- strength, range of motion, balance and ability to move and ambulate.
    • person’s size and weight
    • ability and willingness to assist
    • communication limitations
    • behaviour, state of arousal and cognitive impairments
    • clinical issues (eg oxygen tanks)
  • Equipment, tools and vehicle
    • slide-sheets, patient slides, sling handles and overhead trapeze
    • emergency and transfer patient trolleys
    • patient beds
    • wheelchairs and commodes
    • hoists
    • walking aids
    • patient transport vehicles
    • bariatric-specific equipment
  • Layout and environment
    • facility design for transfer tasks and patient mobility
    • equipment storage and accessibility
    • space limitations
    • layout to optimise patient flow and work flow
    • evenness of ground surfaces
  • Work organisation
    • staffing levels
    • pace of work and control over work
    • working hours and shift work
    • training and experience

Bariatric management (heavier and larger individuals) must be considered throughout the risk management process and should arise as a risk factor in relation to the various sources of risk (described above).

Controlling the risks

When people are being handled, the controls selected and applied should take into account all of the sources of risks. Controls may include the following:

  • Environmental design
    • designing the environment to suit the assistance of people in that environment;
    • ensuring the location and storage of mechanical aids and assistive devices allows easy access;
    • installing ceiling hoists in rooms of individuals that have limited mobility; and
    • designing rooms and bathrooms for the handling of bariatric people
  • Equipment, tool and vehicle design
    • procuring and maintaining appropriate equipment, tools and vehicles to suit clients, environments and manual tasks that need to be performed.
  • Nature of the load
    • implementing systems that addresses person’s mobility limitations; eg maximise the person's ability to assist in the move through the use of appropriate advice, mechanical and/or assistive devices; and
    • implementing systems that addresses person’s size and weight; eg bariatric policy and supporting procedures, procuring equipment that are designed for bariatrics, designing, selecting or modifying environments to suit the handling of bariatric clients.
  • Work organisation and work practice systems
    • adopting work practices that reduce the risk of injury, such as moving the person to a place that does not constrain the movement of the worker performing the task, for example, using a shower trolley to bathe a patient;
    • assessing the needs of the task including the specific type of mechanical aids and personnel needed, and planning it in a manner that avoids the hazardous manual task;
    • where the use of a hoist requires two or more people provide adequate supervision and resources to eliminate the risk of workers being under time pressure and attempting the task on their own;
    • planning how to handle a person attached to medical or other equipment; and
    • providing training for the safe use of mechanical aids and assistive devices.

The WorkSafe WA’s ‘Manual task guide for carers’ provides more detailed information about the risks and how to manage the risk associated with handling people.
 

Relevant people handling information

Handling heavy, large, bulky and awkward items

Handling heavy, large, bulky and awkward items are common manual tasks performed across all industries.

Risk management that arrives at addressing and correcting the sources of the risks is imperative for such manual tasks.  Several guidance documents exist to discuss the various factors to consider when identifying, assessing, controlling and reviewing the risks. One such document which is highly recommended is ‘WorkSafe Victoria (2012) A guide to handling large, bulky or awkward items’ It is recommended that the reader refer to this document for details about managing the risks associated with such loads.

Drum handling

Manually handling drums is a common manual task performed across various industries that is often hazardous, if the risks associated with handling this large, bulky awkward and often heavy load are not managed. It is important for people who work in manufacturing or agricultural industries, local government, garages, workshops, as distributors of petroleum products or paint supplies or in other workplaces where drums are handled as part of the job.

The following general problems and suggested solutions are examples of how manual handling injuries may be reduced.

Sources of risk factors

The sources of the risks associated with drum handling include:

Lay-out and space

For example

  • drums are stored in restricted spaces.
Equipment and tools

For example

  • Equipment to handle these loads safely are not easily accessible.
Nature of load

For example

  • drums are difficult to grip;
  • the drums are too heavy when other risk factors, such as the number of drums to be moved or the distance moved, are taken into account;
  • excessive force is required to manually upend the drums usually due to the heavy weight of the drums; and
  • excessive pushing and pulling forces are required to move the drums usually due to the heavy weight of the drums;

Environmental 

For example

  • floor surfaces are slippery and/or uneven (eg. uneven ground or steps).

Work organisation

For example

  • The drums may not always be dropped off where they will be used, requiring double handling; and
  • There are many drums requiring handling within a short time-frame at delivery time and inadequate number of staff to share the load

Controls 

Here are some ideas that may be used to avoid strain injuries.

The examples provided may need to be used in combination with each other. Other risk control strategies, for example training, form part of any well thought out solution.

Lay-out and space

  • allocate sufficient space for handling the drums; and
  • select a storage area that is easily accessible between storage, delivery and dispatch.

Equipment and tools 

  • provide and use mechanical handling equipment, eg forklifts;
  • palletise the drums and use mechanical lifting;
  • use truck mounted hoists;
  • use a trolley; and
  • use a drum lifter.
Nature of the load
  • ask your supplier to provide smaller sized drums;
Environment
  • provide unloading ramps; and
  • provide and maintain even and non-slip floors.
Work organisation
  • clean up floor spills immediately; and
  • ensure there are adequate staff available of delivery and dispatch days to share the handling load.

The Code of practice for Manual tasks provides practical guidance on the identification, assessment and control and review of risks associated with performing manual tasks at work.

Stacking cartons on pallets

Stacking cartons on pallets is a common manual task performed across various industries that can be hazardous, if the risks associated with this often repetitive manual handling task are not managed. This manual task is performed across many industries, particularly services to agriculture, warehouses, factories, shops and manufacturing.

Sources of risks

The sources of the risks associated with stacking cartons on pallets are numerous and include:

Lay-out and space

For example

  • the load is lifted from the floor, or from below mid-thigh height;
  • reaching above shoulder height when stacking cartons on pallets;
  • repetitive twisting and bending is performed when placing cartons on a pallet; and
  • excessive forward reaching is required when placing cartons on the far side of a pallet.

Equipment and tools 

For example

  • Repetitive manual handling is performed rather than using mechanical equipment (such as fork trucks) to shift bulk loads; and
  • Adjustable pallet jacks and work surfaces are not accessible.

Nature of load 

For example

  • the cartons are too heavy when other risk factors, such as the number of cartons to be moved or the distance moved, are taken into account;  and
  • the cartons are awkward to grasp due to their size and shape.

Work organisation 

For example

  • Inadequate staff are available on delivery and dispatch days.

Controls

Here are some ideas that may be used to avoid strain injuries.

The examples provided may need to be used in combination with each other. Other risk control strategies, for example training, form part of any well thought out solution.

Lay-out and space
  • limit the height of the stack of cartons.
Equipment and tools 
  • eliminate manual handling by using automatic carton stacking, vacuum suction, or hydraulic carton stacking;
  • raise the work height, eg. use a platform with automatic height adjustment;
  • use scissor platforms or tables;
  • use swivel or tilt platforms.
Nature of the load
  • talk to your customers or suppliers about the size, shape and weight of cartons and their contents;
  • reduce the weight of the carton.
Work organisation
  • ensure there are adequate staff available on delivery and dispatch days so that the handling of loads are not too intensive for individuals working on these days.
  • where team lifting is necessary, ensure a safe procedure is agreed and followed.

The Code of practice for Manual tasks provides practical guidance on the identification, assessment and control and review of risks associated with performing manual tasks at work.

Moving trolleys

Moving trolleys is a common manual task performed across various industries that can be hazardous, if the risks associated with handling this load are not managed. It is important for people who work in.

This manual task is performed across many industries, particularly hotels, hospitals, shops, libraries, workshops, factories or other workplaces where moving trolleys is part of the job.

The following general problems and suggested solutions are examples of how manual handling injuries may be reduced.

Sources of risk factors

The sources of the risks associated with moving trolleys include:

Lay-out and space

For example,

  • trolleys are moved over large distances or up steep slopes; and
  • there is inadequate space to manoeuvre trolleys safely (particularly around corners).

Equipment and tools  

For example,

  • trolleys are difficult to manoeuvre;
  • trolley wheels or castors are not appropriate for the environment of load type;
  • trolleys are difficult to grip due to the absence or poor location of handles; and
  • the platform size and positions are inadequate for the load type; and
  • inadequate adjustability features for the variety of use of the trolley.
Nature of load

For example,

  • the trolleys and their loads are too heavy when other risk factors, such as the number of times a trolley is moved or the workplace layout, are taken into account; and
  • the person pushing the trolley is unable to see over the load because the trolley is overloaded or the trolley has been poorly designed.
Environmental

For example,

  • surfaces over which trolleys are pushed are uneven or mismatched.
Work organisation

For example,

  • trolley wheels are poorly maintained.

Controls

Here are some ideas that may be used to avoid strain injuries, if the task cannot be eliminated, for example, by replacing trolleys with automatic conveyors.

The examples provided may need to be used in combination with each other. Other risk control strategies, for example training, form part of any well thought out solution.

Lay-out and space  

For example,

  • provide low gradient ramps; and
  • design of environment should consider providing flow of trolleys and adequate space for the task.

Equipment and tools 

For example,

  • mechanise the movement of trolleys, eg. use a trolley towing device;
  • ensure trolley wheel size and type are suitable for the job;
  • provide wheel tracking mechanisms;
  • provide trolley brakes;
  • provide an appropriate trolley handle design;
  • locate trolley handles at a height which suits the worker; and
  • provide automatically opening doors where trolleys are used frequently.

Nature of the load  

For example,

  • reduce the weight of the trolley; and
  • reduce the weight of the load placed on the trolley;

Environment 

For example,

  • Provide even flooring where trolleys are to be used.

Work organisation 

For example,

  • clean up floor spills immediately;
  • ensure there are adequate staff available of delivery and dispatch days to share the handling load;
  • restrict the maximum stacking heights of trolleys to improve visibility, weight and posture for users; and
  • ensure regular pre-planned maintenance of trolleys.

The Code of practice for Manual tasks provides practical guidance on the identification, assessment and control and review of risks associated with performing manual tasks at work.

Information resources

Stacking shelves

Stacking shelves is a common manual task performed across various industries that is often hazardous, if the risks associated with this often repetitive manual task are not managed.

The following general problems and suggested solutions are examples of how manual handling injuries may be reduced.

Sources of risk factors

The sources of the risks associated with stacking shelves include:

Lay-out and space

For example,

  • items are stored above shoulder level;
  • items are lifted from below mid-thigh height; excessive forward reaching is required when lifting or placing loads on and off shelves; and
  • there is not enough space to handle items safely.
Nature of load

For example,

  • items are too heavy when other risk factors, such as the number of times the items are moved or the distance moved, are taken into account;
  • the weight of items is unknown and they are heavier than expected for their size or shape; and
  • the load is unstable or awkward to move.

Work organisation  

For example,

  • items are double handled; and
  • too much stock is delivered at one time and there is inadequate shelving space for the stock.

Controls

Here are some ideas that may be used to avoid strain injuries.

The examples provided may need to be used in combination with each other. Other risk control strategies, for example training, form part of any well thought out solution.

Lay-out and space
  • limit the height of shelves to shoulder height;
  • improve access by having rotating shelves;
  • limit the depth of shelves;  and
  • ensure sufficient space is allocated for handling when designing shelving work areas.
Equipment and tools
  • use step stools and steps to avoid over-reaching;
  • ensure design of steps and stools is safe and appropriate; and
  • use height adjustable trolleys for unloading and loading items.

Nature of the load

  • ensure cartons are correctly labelled with their contents and weight

Work organisation

  • eliminate double handling by keeping the amount of stock stored to a minimum so that items can be placed directly onto shelves for sale or use;
  • organise storage so that heavy or high turnover stock is stored at waist height;
  • stack stock in their cartons rather than unloading individual containers onto shelves;
  • store large awkward items such as bicycles and wheelchairs at ground level; and
  • where appropriate, use drawers instead of low shelves to eliminate bending and reaching.

The Code of practice for Manual tasks provides practical guidance on the identification, assessment and control and review of risks associated with performing manual tasks at work.

Computer use

Computer use or interaction is considered a manual task.  Working at a computer intensively can expose workers to prolonged awkward postures, sustained postures and repetitive movement. The sort of conditions that may be associated with intensive computer use include  neck and upper limb disorders (eg. neck discomfort, and tendonitis at the elbow and wrist regions) and back pain. In order to minimise these risks, it is important that this task is not performed intensively (ie. ensuring adequate breaks, movement and variety of tasks) and that there is provision of a good workstation design, layout and adequate adjustability of the equipment.

Information resources

See the Office Safety website pages for in depth information on this subject including how to set up your workstation and workstation checklist.

Manual tasks solutions

Manual tasks solutions outline factors to consider when selecting equipment. 

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