Manual tasks - Frequently asked questions

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This page contains frequently asked questions on manual tasks

Is it expensive to implement manual tasks solutions?  

There are a wide range of ways to control the risk of manual handling injury, ranging from simple procedural changes to state-of-the-art machinery and equipment.  The costs of manual tasks solutions are usually justified when the costs associated with injured workers requiring time off work is considered.

Why is equipment design important for preventing manual task injuries?   

When selecting equipment you should consider the design and ensure it is suitable for the type of task that needs to be performed, the environment it will be used in and the people who will be using it. Before purchasing equipment it advisable to have a trial period to ensure that the equipment suits the purpose and does not introduce new risks to the workplace. In addition staff should be trained in safe use of the equipment before it is used. In general mechanical equipment will require regular maintenance. 

Examples of equipment which can be used to reduce the risk of manual task injuries include:  

  • trolleys and dollies; 
  • hoists; 
  • patient slide sheets; 
  • back saver cranes; 
  • wheels and castors; 
  • drum handling equipment; 
  • forklift and their attachments; 
  • hand trucks; 
  • lift tables; 
  • load skates; 
  • pallet lifters; 
  • stair climbers; 
  • tailgate loaders; 
  • tool balancers; 
  • utility cranes; 
  • vacuum lifters; 

Why label heavy loads?

Body stressing, mainly from manual handling objects, remains the most common cause of injury in Western Australia.

Informing workers of heavy loads would assist workers to identify a potentially hazardous manual task prior to their undertaking of the activity. Knowledge into to the magnitude of these loads would assist workers to assess their risk of injury and to apply appropriate controls to reduce this risk. 

The law requires employers to provide information to their employees so that they are not exposed to manual task hazards. Refer to Section 19(1)(b) Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. e.g., by labelling heavy loads.  The law also requires: 

  • The three-step risk management process of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control should be applied to hazards from performing manual tasks, including manual handing. Refer to Regulation 3.1 and Regulation 3.4 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 ie, apply risk management process 
  • Hazards from performing manual tasks should be controlled so far as is practicable so that workers are not exposed to hazards. There are general duties and responsibilities placed upon employers, workers and contractors under WA legislation. Refer to Sections 19, 20 and 23D, 23E, 23F of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. ie, control the risk

Is there such thing as a safe weight to lift?

It is not possible to accurately assess manual handling tasks considering the weight of the load alone. For example, considering only the weight of the load will not significantly reduce the risk associated with manual handling tasks that are highly repetitive and require poor postures to be adopted. 

The weight of a load is one of many common risk factors listed in the code of practice for assessing a manual handling task. 

These risk factors fall into six basic categories: 

  • actions and postures 
  • forces and loads (including its weight) 
  • exposure to vibration 
  • the work environment 
  • systems of work 
  • worker characteristics. 

There are variations in people's height and weight, and there are variations in their lifting ability. Design tasks that are safe for all people in workplaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, Section 19, requires that the work environment does not expose workers to hazards. 

Where do I find consultants who can help with my manual handling or other ergonomics related problems?

  • You can make enquiries for the names of likely consultants through:
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (provide a list of certified professional ergonomists CPE) 
  • other professional associations (such as the Australian Physiotherapy Association and Occupational Therapy Australia); 
  • the yellow pages of the telephone directory. See:ergonomics; rehabilitation Services; and Occupational Health and Safety 
  • your local trade or industry association; 
  • business colleagues and organisations; 
  • Internet search engines.  Keywords: 
    • 'Australia'; 
    • 'ergonomics'; 
    • 'occupational health'; and 
    • 'occupational safety'.

Can wearing back belts prevent manual handling injuries? 

No conclusive evidence has so far been found to support the use of back belts as an effective risk control strategy to prevent manual handling related injuries. A review of the scientific literature reporting studies carried out in several countries neither supports nor refutes the effectiveness of back belts in reducing injuries, although the consensus of expert opinion is that they have no demonstrable benefits. There is also insufficient scientific evidence that they deliver on the types of claims identified above. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States has undertaken extensive research to review and evaluate existing information on back belts. They do not recommend the use of back belts to prevent injuries among uninjured workers. They have also emphasised that: 

'Back belts do not mitigate the hazards to workers posed by repeated lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, or bending.' 

NIOSH is of the opinion that workers wearing back belts may feel a false sense of security and attempt to lift more weight than they would without a belt, thus possibly increasing risk of injury. Back belts should not be regarded as personal protective equipment. 

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