Manual tasks in construction

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The construction industry is labour intensive.  Employees in the construction industry perform a wide variety of manual task using a range of materials and in the course of the average work day.  Materials such as bricks, timber, cement bags, tiles, and plasterboard are carried or manipulated by hand, often over rough or slippery terrain. Employees also use a variety of tools and machinery to complete their work.

 A number of tasks carried out in specific jobs expose those workers to greater risk of injury while carrying out manual tasks. These trades have been shown particularly to have high body stressing injuries:

  • electricians;
  • builders labourers/labourers;
  • carpenters;
  • plumbers;
  • concreters;
  • formworkers;
  • scaffolders;
  • plasterers;
  • bricklayers (especially pointers);
  • glaziers;
  • painters;
  • blocklayers and stonemasons;
  • landscapers;
  • paving and surfacing;
  • airconditioning handling; and
  • roofers- roof tilers and roof carpenters.

Designers

Risks from manual tasks can be avoided or minimised during the design stage. The duty of care of designers outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 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 workers from various trades that may arise from their designs and plan to reduce or eliminate the risks.

  • specify the lightest weight product that meets the design criteria;
  • plan and design safe access for both during construction and for maintenance. Ensure enough space for access with mechanical handling equipment, eg if heavy components need to be fitted in a plant room consider if there is adequate access for a mechanical lifter to lift, place or remove the components;
  • ensure specifications and plans are clearly marked with the weights of the materials; and
  • design, specify and mark lifting points into large/heavy building components.

Code of practice - Safe design of buildings and structures

Manufacturers and suppliers

Manufacturers and suppliers can assist in reducing manual handling risks to all trade workers.

  • Reduce the weight of bagged products, eg reduce the size of product bags from 40kg to less than 20kg (eg many cement bags are now packaged as 17.8kg loads).
  • Secure the products so that the load doesn't move unexpectedly.
  • Clearly mark the load to indicate the weight of products.
  • Use mechanical handling equipment, such as a crane or hiab, when delivering equipment and/or supplies. The point of delivery should be as close to the point of use as possible.
  • Include purpose designed, reinforced lifting points on the load, to provide for the safe use of cranes, hiabs or other mechanical lifting equipment.

Principal contractor

Construction work distinguishes itself from other types of work because employees in this industry may be exposed to a wide range of hazards while completing their day to day work duties. The reasons for this are complex and include:

  • The changing nature of the construction worksite. A typical construction project has a number of stages and over time, so different hazards arise with each stage on site.
  • The changing range of construction staff. With different stages of work, there are also changes in staff to complete each phase. There is often a high number and rate of turnover of contractors and subcontractors working temporarily at each site.
  • Construction industry is labour intensive. Employees perform a wide variety of manual task using a range of materials and in the course of the average work day.  Materials such as bricks, timber, cement bags, tiles, and plasterboard are carried or manipulated by hand, often over rough or slippery terrain. Employees also use a variety of tools and machinery to complete their work.

Planning and coordination phase

The Occupational Safety and Health Act sets out a duty of care for the principal 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 plumbing and will benefit the productivity of the job as well as promote safety. The following guidelines provide some practical ideas.

Access/egress

Consideration needs to be given to access/egress for maintenance work and provisions made before the job is started.

Confined spaces

Many construction trade workers have to work in confined spaces. Working in confined spaces has many safety implications. More detailed information can be obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 and Australian Standard AS 2865 Safe Working in a Confined Space.

  • Confined spaces make access/egress and manual handling awkward. Provide a safe walkway in roof spaces and ducts for example plank out walkways where practicable.
  • Consideration to these issues should be given in the planning stage and appropriate action taken.
  • Institute construction and/or maintenance systems so that as much work as possible is completed in other locations i.e. not in the confined area to minimise the time plumbers have to spend in awkward postures.
  • Where working in confined spaces is unavoidable make sure adequate resources are allocated to allow the various trades to take appropriate breaks from working in awkward postures.
  • All environmental conditions need to be considered, that is adequate lighting provided, noise controlled and adequate temperature control provided how and where practicable.
  • All electrical sources must be isolated before any work likely to come into contact with the electrical supply, fitting or fixture commences.
Scaffold

When the blocks are to be laid from a scaffold ensure the safe load capacity of the scaffold is not exceeded. Generally a heavy-duty scaffold must be used to make sure the load is within the capacity of the scaffold. A loading bay should be located appropriately, giving consideration to access/egress. The movement of the blocks, equipment and people around the scaffold needs to be considered with particular attention to establishing and maintaining an even, stable and secure working platform, i.e. make sure the scaffold planks are even and secured.

Consider the scaffold requirements of plasterers, and plan accordingly. Ensure suitable scaffold and attachments such as aluminium frame hop-ups are provided where necessary. A loading bay should be located appropriately, giving consideration to access/egress. The capacity of the scaffold must be appropriate for the loads.

Works programming
  • The programme of works should take into consideration the implications to trades fitting/installing plant/equipment.
  • Sequence work to prevent 'rush jobs' as far as practicable.
  • Coordinate the job to allow the various trades to complete work free from obstruction.
Materials delivery/storage

Material delivery and storage areas should have enough space and lighting to allow for the safe movement of the materials.

Have adequate storage space and systems in place to maintain materials and equipment in designated and secure areas.

The ground conditions for storage and lay down areas should be even and compacted.

  • Ensure the construction materials and equipment are delivered as close as possible to the job so there is minimal double handling.  For example, the site supervisor can fax the site plans specifying delivery points to the delivery company with the order.
  • Wherever possible ensure mechanical aids able to be delivered where they are used to move large, heavy loads.
Selection of material

Selecting materials that are lighter and easier to handle decreases the overall workload of trades people.

Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment

Mechanical lifting and handling equipment must be considered to move heavy/awkward products, tools and equipment around the site. Mechanical devices must be considered to complete heavy manual tasks such as digging, removing gatic or well covers etc. The provision and maintenance of the equipment should be planned 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 hiab, crane or other mechanical lifting device to lift and place large/heavy components;
  • the use of a crane or other mechanical lifting device to move ply/steel up onto a loading platform or scaffold;
  • the provision of a mechanical lifting device such as a materials hoist to facilitate the safe movement of tools/equipment between working levels; and
  • the use of hiabs, winches or ramps to load and unload work vehicles.
Selection of tools and equipment

When selecting tools and equipment the safety of the operator must be considered. The lightest weight tool with the least amount of vibration that is suitable for the job should be provided.

For example for to chase walls select a light weight cutter that minimises dust in preference to large, heavy, awkward, high revolution tool such as a chasing saws (refer to the Code of practice: Concrete and masonry cutting and drilling).

Team lifting

Team lifting can in many cases reduce this risk. It must be remembered however that team lifting has inherent risks and does not provide a 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.

Construction phase

During the construction phase the Principal Contractor has a legal responsibility to ensure the maintenance of site safety. Safety and health policies and procedures and safe systems of work should be established at the beginning of a project and should be regularly reviewed throughout project. Site inductions, appropriate training, and ongoing supervision are required throughout the construction phase to ensure safe systems are achieved and maintained.

Access/egress

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. Material hoists should not be removed before all materials have been put in place.

Work sequencing/planning

The sequencing/planning of a job should facilitate safe systems of work for the various trades. Coordinate the work so that all heavy/large components can be craned into place at one time thus minimising crane time and maximising the use of mechanical lifting; and

Work layout

The work layout influences how the work can be completed. Examples include:

  • have materials and equipment placed at the working level. Ensure a system is in place to enable materials and equipment to be on the work level and readily accessible to the leading edge; and
  • any cutting work should be completed on a workbench or a sawhorse on a stable surface so that work is completed at an optimal working height, that is between hip and waist height.

Working platform planks must be secured and maintained. Where practicable the working platform should allow the trade worker to complete their work in a good posture, i.e. between knee and shoulder height.

Environmental conditions

Windy weather has a considerable impact on the handling of formwork components, in particular large sheets of ply. Wet weather also makes manual handling significantly more difficult. Large loads should not be moved around in adverse climatic conditions unless a safe system of work, taking the conditions into consideration, can be implemented.

Good housekeeping

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.

Plumbers

Manual task injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in plumbers having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among plumbers include, moving gas bottles, digging, carrying pipes and plumbing fixtures and lifting heavy equipment such as tank covers, drain cleaning machines and heavy valves/pumps.

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 plumbers are outlined below.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to plumbers.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Specific examples for plumbers include:

  • maximise the time spent working between knee and shoulder height by altering the height of the working platform when working from a scaffold whenever this is practicable;
  • reduce the time spent in a stooped posture by completing work on a workbench instead of on the ground;
  • to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues do warm-up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the workday. This is what athletes do to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury;
  • use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (see above for examples of the equipment);
  • do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely;
  • always use the lightest possible tool for the job; and
  • always seek assistance if necessary.

Moving gas cylinders

Large gas cylinders are heavy, bulky and awkward to move. Some possible solutions are:

  • whenever practicable use small size cylinders;
  • use appropriate trolleys, purpose made with large wheels;
  • use materials hoist to get cylinders to upper levels rather than carrying the cylinders up the stairs;
  • leave the gas bottles on the work vehicle and use a long hose (maximum length should not exceed 15 metres). To ensure the flash arresters work, the operator needs to adjust the pressure at the regulator to make sure there is a sufficient supply of gas at the hand piece when using a long hose. The operator also needs to make sure the hose is not pulled over areas where it will be damaged or cause a trip hazard; and
  • maintain good standard of housekeeping to maintain access egress for the trolley and/or the hose.

Note: There are other important associated safety issues with cylinders. Following safe work practices in the use and maintenance of gas cylinders is essential. Always store cylinders away from the immediate work area and secure them in an upright position.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment has to be loaded and unloaded, often several times per day. Loads are often heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise the risk of a manual handling injury consider the following:

  • use mechanical assistance such as a hiab;
  • modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • install ladder rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders on/off the vehicle;
  • have removable tailgate and sides; and
  • use the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job.

Digging

A number of injuries are associated with digging. Problems include using inappropriate tools, hitting an unexpected object and having to get into awkward positions. Before digging commences always identify the location of all gas, electrical, water, waste and sewage services likely to be encountered during excavation work (this can be done through the relevant authorities or Dial Before You Dig). Examples of solutions include:

  • use excavator/bobcat or other mechanical digging device such as a ditch witch whenever possible; and
  • if using hand held shovels -
    • use trench shovel for water pipe trenches;
    • use shovels with shock absorbing handles when digging around tree roots, brick rubble etc; and
    • use both long and short handled to suit task/person, eg use 'extra short' handle shovels when digging in a confined area such as a soak well.

Pipe installation and movement

There are problems associated with moving long, awkward pipes around site and in confined places. Often pipes need to be fitted in areas that are difficult to access. Possible solutions include:

  • work on adjustable height scaffold, or EWP where possible;
  • use pipe stands, pipe lifters, block and tackle or a winch to hold and place pipes;
  • use pipe benches, raising work to good working height, when cutting etc is required however it is essential that the pipe is stable and level when cutting;
  • minimise the movement of pipes;
  • use a minimum of 2 people to move long length pipes around site;
  • use detachable 'handles' to make handling easier; and
  • remember to maintain good posture and follow safe handling procedures.

Chasing walls

Chasing walls with heavy, high revolution tools such as chasing saws has manual handling and inherent safety risks. Solutions include:

  • eliminating the task whenever possible, such as by thinking ahead, and building pipe-work into the walls and/or floor to eliminate the need to chase; or
  • select more appropriate equipment such as use light weight tools, that have adequate guarding and safety design features;
  •  ensure adequate training has been received for the task to be done in the safest possible way and ensure machinery is used in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For further information refer to the Code of practice for Concrete and masonry cutting and drilling.

Good housekeeping

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, safer and more productive.

Team lifting

Training must be provided for all plumbers 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.

Blocklayers and stonemasons

Blocklayers and stonemasons are at a higher risk than most workers of sustaining a manual handling injury. Manual handling injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in blocklayers and stonemasons having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among blocklayers and stonemasons include: moving blocks/stones around site, a single person manually laying a large number of blocks/stones in excess of approximately 20kg and laying blocks/stones in awkward positions.

All blocklayers, stonemasons and their labourers 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 block layers and stonemasons are outlined below.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to blocklayers and stonemasons.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Specific examples for blocklayers, stonemasons and their labourers include:

  • The physical workload of blocklayers and stonemasons is significantly affected by the posture of the blocklayer or stonemason. Examples of work practices to reduce the time spent stooping or over stretching are:
    • maximise the time spent laying blocks or stones 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.
  • Use 2 hands to lift and place blocks. DO NOT use the trowel as a lifting tool.
  • If working from a scaffold ensure it has an adequate load capacity and there is adequate workspace and access/egress to safely move the blocks/stones.
  • To avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues do warm-up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the workday. This is what athletes do to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury.
  • Use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (see above for examples of the equipment).
  • Always use the lightest possible tool for the job.
  • Do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely.
  • Always seek assistance if necessary.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment has to be loaded and unloaded, often several times per day. Loads can be heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • use mechanical assistance such as a hiab;
  • modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • have removable tailgate and sides;
  • use the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job; and
  • install ladder rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders on/off the vehicle;

Moving blocks, stones and mortar

Blocks, stones and mortar need to be moved around site. The loads can be very heavy and in some cases awkward to move. Some solutions include:

  • never move wheelbarrows, trolleys and/or pallet lifters through sand or over uneven terrain and always make sure the there is a clear access/egress. As a minimum there must be planks or other suitable alternatives in place;
  • never hand ball blocks or stone;
  • always use wheelbarrows or trolleys designed for moving heavy loads such as mortar, for example a two-wheeled wheelbarrow or a wide wheeled barrow. Consideration should be given to a motorised barrow, which can be utilised as a wheelbarrow and a block trolley; and
  • if the blocks are an unstable load report it to your site supervisor to feedback to the manufacturer.
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. When possible break up continuous shovelling with alternative tasks.
Digging

A number of injuries are associated with digging. Problems include using inappropriate tools, hitting an unexpected object and having to get into awkward positions. Before digging commences always identify the location of all the services. All excavation work should be carried out in accordance with the Code of practice: Excavation. Examples of solutions include:

  • use excavator/bobcat or other mechanical digging device whenever possible;
  • if using hand held shovels:
    • use shovels with shock absorbing handles when digging near tree roots, brick rubble etc; and
    • use both long and short handled to suit task/person, eg use 'extra short' handle shovels when digging in a confined trench area.
  • make sure adequate training has been received for the digging to be done in the safest possible way.

Good housekeeping

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.

Team lifting

Training must be provided for all blocklayers, stonemasons 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.

Bricklayers

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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among bricklayers and labourers include moving bricks around site, manually lifting and carrying lintels and laying bricks in awkward positions and repetitively bending.

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.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to bricklayers.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Good housekeeping

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.

Team lifting

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.

Formworkers

Manual handling injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in formwork carpenters having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among formworkers include, moving sheets of ply between working levels, manually lifting and carrying heavy materials and fixing formwork components in awkward postures.

All formworkers 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 of how formworkers can fulfil these responsibilities in relation to manual handling are outlined below.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to formworkers.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Specific examples for formworkers include:

  • wherever practicable maximise the time spent working between knee and shoulder height; Reduce the time spent stooped by completing all cutting and marking work on a bench/sawhorse instead of the ground;
  • to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues do warm-up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the workday. This is what athletes do to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury;
  • use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (refer to 'Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment' section for more detail); and
  • do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely.

Moving formwork components

The movement of formwork components around site should be minimised as much as possible as the loads can be heavy and awkward to handle. Inevitably however there will be some manual lifting and carrying. Strategies to minimise the risk of injury associated with manually moving formwork components include:

  • never perform single person manual lifts to move heavy components or large pieces of ply, always use at least two people to complete manual lifting/carrying;
  • never bump up large components, particularly with sharp edges. Wherever practicable use mechanical lifting devices;
  • always ensure components are denailed before handling;
  • wear adequate PPE when moving components. For example wear appropriate gloves when moving timbers to avoid splinters; and
  • if it is a windy day consider how to minimise the effects of the wind when moving ply.

Power tools

Safe work practices when using power tools include:

  • always select power tools that are the most suitable for the job giving consideration to weight, vibration and kickback;
  • maintain all cutting equipment. Excessive force is required when using dull blades;
  • always use two hands to operate power saws; and
  • ensure leads are placed/positioned so they are not a trip hazard.

Power tools have inherent risks and should always be used in accordance with the manufacturers specification and with the relevant PPE. Never modify machine guarding or other safety features. Electrical safety requirements outlined in AS/NZS 3012: Electrical installations - construction and demolition sites, must be complied with. Consideration must be given to the noise levels when using power tools. Further information is outlined in the Code of practice:  Managing noise at workplaces.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment often has to be loaded and unloaded several times per day. Loads can be heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • use mechanical assistance such as a hiab;
  • modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • have fold down tailgate and sides;
  • use the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job;
  • organise the load so the frequently accessed and heavy items are the easiest to unload/load; and
  • install rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders, trestles or planks on/off the vehicle.

Good housekeeping

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.

Team lifting

Training must be provided for all formworkers and labourers involved in team lifting. All team lifts require a 'leader' who is responsible to coordinate the lift. Remember team lifting should not be considered an adequate long-term control. Team lifting is inherently dangerous and alternative solutions should be considered.

Electricians

Electricians are at a higher risk than most workers of sustaining a manual handling injury. Manual handling injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in electricians having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among electricians include pulling cables, completing work in cramped postures, working overhead and lifting, carrying, manoeuvring and placing awkward loads.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to electricians.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

All electricians 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 of how electricians can fulfil these responsibilities in relation to manual handling are outlined below.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Specific examples for electricians include:

  • maximise the time spent working between knee and shoulder height by altering the height of the working platform whenever practicable;
  • if the work has to be completed below knee or above shoulder height regularly alternate the working posture. For example, if work below knee height has to be completed alternate postures from kneeling (with suitable kneeling pads), squatting and sitting. Always take regular breaks when working in awkward postures;
  • reduce the time spent stooped by completing all cutting/preparatory work on a bench rather than the ground; Consider completing as much of the preparatory work off site as possible. For example in a workshop with purpose built benches and adequate lighting;
  • if working from a scaffold ensure it has an adequate load capacity and there is adequate workspace and access/egress to safely move the materials;
  • use appropriate working platforms, for example equipment such as a mobile scaffold or suitable elevated working platform (EWP) must be used instead of a ladder when significant work is being completed;
  • do not walk directly on ceiling joists, as there is a high risk of the joists not supporting the weight, particularly when tools and equipment are being carried. As a minimum always put planks down for access/egress and ensure there is an adequate working platform. More information on working at heights is provided in the Code of practice:  Prevention of falls at workplaces;
  • do warm-up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the workday to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues. This is what athletes do to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury;
  • use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required to move equipment/materials around site (refer to 'Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment' section for more detail);
  • do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely; and
  • always seek assistance to complete manual handling tasks when required. Ensure team lifts are coordinated and that there has been an adequate risk assessment completed.

Digging

A number of injuries are associated with digging. Problems include using inappropriate tools, hitting an unexpected object and having to get into awkward positions. Before digging commences always identify the location of all gas, electrical, water, waste and sewage services likely to be encountered during excavation work. Examples of solutions include:

  • use excavator/bobcat or other mechanical digging device such as a ditch witch whenever possible; and
  • if using hand held shovels:
    • use trench shovel for cable trenches;
    • use shovels with shock absorbing handles when digging around tree roots, brick rubble etc; and
    • use long or short handled shovels to suit task/person.

For further information on safe work practices associated with excavation refer to the Code of practice: Excavation code of practice.

Switchboards/panels

Electricians often have to work for prolonged periods on switchboards/panels as well as fit them into place. Examples of safe work practices include:

  • complete as much work as possible on the switchboard/panel before fitting;
  • ensure as far as is practicable there is adequate ventilation and cooling to decrease the risk of dehydration, tools slipping from 'sweaty' hands and electrocution due to moisture;
  • where practical always use mechanical assistance to lift/place large switchboards/panels;
  • do not manually carry large switchboards/panels. Use an appropriate trolley to move the switchboards/panels around site;
  • maintain a good working posture when working on a switchboard/panel, such as the use of an appropriate work stool when practical; and
  • take regular 'posture' breaks to allow the muscles and joints to rest.

Power tools

Safe work practices when using power tools include:

  • always select power tools that are the most suitable for the job giving consideration to weight, vibration and kickback;
  • always select the most appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). For example select the best gloves for the job, select helmets with grips to prevent the helmet from slipping when doing overhead work and always wear eye protection when drilling overhead; and
  • use a cordless power tools when working within the ceiling space/roof area.

Power tools have inherent risks and should always be used in accordance with the manufacturers specification. Compliance with electrical safety requirements, outlined in AS/NZS 3012: Electrical installations on construction sites, must be achieved. Consideration must be given to the noise levels when using power tools. Further information is outlined in the Code of Practice: Managing noise at workplaces.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment has to be loaded and unloaded, often several times per day. Loads can be heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • use mechanical assistance such as a hiab;
  • modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • have 'fold down' tailgate and sides;
  • organise the load so the frequently accessed and heavy items are the easiest to unload/load;
  • use the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job; and
  • install rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders, trestles or planks on/off the vehicle.

Laying cables

Pulling cables can require significant force. Safe work practices include:

  • whenever practical use mechanical cable pulling devices; or
  • if the cables are laid manually:
    • make sure there are enough people located appropriately, to complete the task safely;
    • use of fibreglass reach hooks as opposed to metal ones;
    • ensure the task is coordinated. A team leader must be identified to coordinate the cable pulling and laying. An adequate communication system must be established to ensure the handling is coordinated; and
    • whenever possible feed cables in a downward direction . This way gravity can assist.

Confined spaces

Electricians often have to work in confined areas such as ceiling spaces. This affects how manual handling tasks can be completed. Examples of how to reduce the risk of a manual handling injury when working in confined areas are listed below:

  • use appropriate aids such as a crawl board to access confined areas;
  • enhance points of access as much as possible. For example remove enough roof tiles to allow easy access for the electrician, tools and equipment;
  • ensure the environmental conditions including lighting, ventilation, noise and temperature are adequately controlled before completing work in a confined space;
  • complete as much work as practicable before installation so as to minimise the time spent in the confined areas; and
  • take regular 'posture' breaks to allow the muscles and joints to rest.

More detailed information on safe work practices in confined spaces can be obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 and AS/NZS 2865:2001 Safe Working in Confined Spaces.

Chasing walls

Chasing walls with heavy, high revolution tools such as quickcuts or angle grinders has manual handling and other inherent safety risks. Whenever possible pre-lay cables into the walls and/or floor to eliminate the need to chase; or where this is not possible:

  • always use the lightest, most suitable tools; and
  • make sure adequate training has been received for the task to be completed in the safest possible way.

For further information refer to the Code of practice: Concrete and masonry cutting and drilling.

Good housekeeping

All workers involved in all trades on site have a responsibility for maintaining site tidiness. Routine, regular clean-ups should be scheduled as part of the workday. Working on a tidy, well-maintained site makes the job easier and safer.

Training

Before undertaking any manual handling tasks ensure adequate manual handling training has been completed so the job can be done safely.

Roof carpenters

Roof carpenters are at a higher risk than most workers of sustaining a manual handling injury. Manual handling injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in roof carpenters having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among roof carpenters include, moving timber and steel from ground to roof level, manually lifting and carrying heavy materials and fixing timbers in awkward postures.

All roof carpenters 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 of how roof carpenters can fulfil these responsibilities, in relation to manual handling, are outlined below.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to roof carpenters.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury.  Specific examples for roof carpenters include:

  • maximise the time spent working between knee and shoulder height by altering the height of the working platform whenever practicable;
  • reduce the time spent stooped by completing all cutting and marking work on a bench/sawhorse instead of the ground;
  • if working from a scaffold ensure it has an adequate load capacity and there is adequate workspace and access/egress to safely move the materials;
  • do not walk directly on ceiling joists, as there is a high risk of the joists not supporting the weight, particularly when tools and equipment are being carried. As a minimum always put planks down for access/egress and ensure there is an adequate working platform. (More details are outlined in the Code of practice for the Prevention of falls at workplaces;
  • use mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (refer to 'Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment' section for more detail); and
  • do not manually lift or move anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely; and always seek assistance if necessary ensuring team lifts are coordinated.

Power tools

Safe work practices when using power tools include:

  • always select power tools that are the most suitable for the job giving consideration to weight, vibration and kickback;
  • maintain all cutting equipment. Excessive force is required when using dull blades;
  • always use two hands to operate power saws; and
  • use a cordless power saw when cutting within the roof area.

Power tools have inherent risks and should always be used in accordance with the manufacturers specification. Never modify machine guarding or other safety features. For example never modify a nail gun so it free fires.  Electrical safety requirements, outlined in AS/NZS 3012:2003 Electrical installations - Construction and demolition sites, must be complied with. Appropriate signage needs to be in place when power tools are used. Consideration must be given to the noise levels when using power tools. Further information is outlined in the Code of practice: Managing noise at workplaces.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment has to be loaded and unloaded, often several times per day. Loads can be heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • use mechanical assistance such as a hiab, vehicle loading crane;
  • modify the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • have fold down tailgate and sides;
  • use the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job; and
  • install rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders, trestles or planks on/off the vehicle.

Moving timber/steel

Timber/steel inevitably need to be moved around site. The loads can be heavy and in some cases awkward to move. Some solutions include:

  • never do single person manual lifts to move heavy steel/timber;
  • never prop up large steels, particularly with sharp edges. Always use mechanical lifting devices;
  • use a minimum of two people to move long lengths of material around site; and
  • minimise the movement of timber/steel around site, including minimising the restacking of timber.

Good housekeeping

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.

Team lifting

Training must be provided for all roof carpenters involved in team lifting.  All team lifts require a  'leader' who is responsible to coordinate the lift.  Remember team lifting should not be considered an adequate long-term control. Team lifting is inherently dangerous and alternative solutions should be considered.

Plasterers

Manual handling injuries are the largest single cause of injury resulting in plasterers having to take time off work. 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.

Common manual tasks that result in injuries among plasterers include plastering in awkward and extreme postures, repetitively applying plaster and working to deadlines that result in working at a rapid pace without rest breaks.

All plasterers 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 of how plasterers can fulfil these responsibilities in relation to manual handling are outlined below.

If you have part or whole control over the design, manufacture, supply and/or principal contracting of the work you do then look at these pages to get an idea of what you can do to minimise the risk to plasterers.  Otherwise consult with these stakeholders to influence the implementation of the various safety elements.

General

Developing and maintaining safe work practices reduces the risk of injury. Specific examples for plasterers include:

  • wherever practicable maximising the time spent working between knee and shoulder height. This can be facilitated by utilising equipment such as aluminium frame hop-ups;
  • using appropriate working platforms, for example equipment such as a mobile scaffold or suitable elevated working platform (EWP) must be used instead of a ladder when significant work is being completed;
  • if working from a scaffold ensuring it has an adequate load capacity and there is adequate workspace and access/egress to safely move the materials;
  • if taking plaster off a mortarboard raising the height of the mortarboard to decrease stooping;
  • reducing the time spent stooped by completing all preparation work on a bench/sawhorse instead of the ground;
  • selecting personal protective equipment such as gloves giving consideration to how they affect manual handling;
  • whenever practicable rotating between jobs. For example interchange between rendering, applying the finish coat and patching;
  • using mechanical lifting and handling equipment when and as required (refer to 'Provision of mechanical lifting and handling equipment' section for more detail); and
  • not manually lifting or moving anything if there is any uncertainty that it can be done safely.

Moving plaster/render around site

Plasterers have to move materials around site. Using equipment such as conveyors, trolleys and wheelbarrows reduce the load for plasterers. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • always avoiding carrying loads around site. For example use a suitable wheelbarrow, trolley or conveyor system;
  • always using a wheelbarrow suitable for the task such as industrial wheelbarrows with wide based tyres, designed to move heavy loads; and
  • planning the work so as to eliminate double handling of products.

Tools and equipment

Always select the tools/equipment that are the best suited for the job. Some general considerations are, whenever practicable:

  • using cement mixers specifically designed with larger bowls for mixing plaster and mechanical tipping devices;
  • always selecting power tools that are the most suitable for the job giving consideration to weight, vibration and kickback; and
  • power tools have inherent risks and should always be used in accordance with the manufacturers specification. Compliance with electrical safety requirements, outlined in AS/NZS 3012: Electrical installations - Construction and Demolition Sites, must be achieved. Consideration must be given to the noise levels when using power tools. Further information is outlined in the Code of practice: Managing noise at workplaces.

Preparation for work

Research has shown that workers that complete work where the shoulder is in elevated postures such as plastering benefit significantly from home exercise programmes. Consideration also needs to be given to preparing your body for work to reduce the risk of injury. Recommended practices include:

  • doing warm-up/stretching exercises at the beginning of the day and cool down/stretching exercises at the end of the workday to avoid injury to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues. This is what athletes do to reduce the risk of soft tissue injury. Tasks completed by ceiling fixers put comparable loads on the body; and
  • considering a specific shoulder stretching and strengthening home exercise programme.

Loading and unloading work vehicles

Heavy equipment often has to be loaded and unloaded several times per day. Loads can be heavy, awkward and difficult to access. To minimise manual handling consider the following:

  • getting a purpose-designed trailer to accommodate the normal plastering materials and equipment;
  • using mechanical assistance such as a hiab or vehicle mounted hoist;
  • modifying the tailgate so it is mechanically lifted and lowered;
  • having fold down tailgate and sides;
  • using the lightest weight tools and equipment practical for the job;
  • organising the load so the frequently accessed and heavy items are the easiest to unload/load; and
  • installing rollers on the roof rack to assist with taking ladders, trestles or planks on/off the vehicle.

Good housekeeping

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 work day. Working on a tidy, well-maintained site eliminates many trip hazards and makes the job easier and safer.

Team lifting

Training must be provided for all plasterers and labourers involved in team lifting. All team lifts require a 'leader' who is responsible to coordinate the lift. Remember team lifting should not be considered an adequate long-term control. Team lifting is inherently dangerous and alternative solutions should be considered.

Further information

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

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