Introduction to manual tasks

Manual tasks refers to any activity or sequence of activities that requires a person to use their physical body (musculoskeletal system) to perform work including:

  • manual handling (the use of force in lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying or otherwise moving, holding or restraining any person, animal or thing); 
  • performing repetitive actions; 
  • adopting awkward or sustained postures; and 
  • using plant, tools or equipment that exposes workers to vibration.

The main health problems that can arise as a result of performing manual tasks are musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains and strains. There are many duty holders that have responsibilities under various aspects of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (Regs). The important systems which all organisations should have in place include those to prevent and respond to incidents related to this hazard.

Injuries and disorders that result from performing manual tasks

Most jobs require several types of manual tasks to be performed. However, not all manual tasks are hazardous. The most common health problems that can arise from manual tasks that are hazardous are musculoskeletal disorders (such as back pain and upper limb disorders) and hernias. Other injuries that can be arise while performing manual tasks include slips, trips and falls, hitting into objects and being hit or crushed.

A musculoskeletal disorder is an injury or disease of the musculoskeletal system. Musculoskeletal disorders may arise in whole or in part from performing manual tasks in the workplace, whether occurring suddenly or over a prolonged period of time.

Musculoskeletal disorders include body-stressing injuries (as classified in the worker’s compensation code system) and conditions such as:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons (eg back strain); 
  • joint injuries or degeneration (eg frozen shoulder or arthritis of the back); 
  • disc protrusions, disc herniations or disc degeneration of the back or neck; 
  • nerve injury or compression (eg carpal tunnel syndrome); 
  • muscular and vascular disorders (eg vibration-induced white finger from hand-arm vibration); and 
  • soft tissue injuries.

Musculoskeletal disorders may result from:

  • gradual wear and tear caused by frequent or prolonged periods of performing manual tasks (eg a store person continually handling stock between deliveries); 
  • sudden damage caused by intense or strenuous manual handling or awkward lifts (eg a labourer lifting a compactor or a glazier lifting a pane of large glass from the ground on to a truck); or 
  • direct trauma caused by unexpected events (eg a store person walking on uneven ground carrying a large heavy carton who trips and falls).

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