Manual handling tasks cause muscoskeletal injuries. What can we do?
Manual handling tasks — including lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling — are associated with a significant number of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) in workplaces across B.C. and around the world.
Lifting technique training continues to be used as a primary control measure for risks associated with manual handling in the workplace. But a number of studies have recognized that lifting technique training is not an effective control for reducing the risk of MSIs. An IOSH Magazine article, The train drain, describes how more recent studies continue to show that, although manual handling training is not effective by itself, multi-component programs can be valuable.
The hierarchy of controls is a useful tool for employers to reduce the risk of any hazards in your workplace. The hierarchy illustrates how the most effective means for reducing the risk of injury is through elimination, followed by substitution and engineering. Less effective controls include administrative controls (e.g., training) and personal protective equipment (PPE).
What might these control measures look like in the workplace?
- Elimination of a manual handling task could involve automation or re-organization of the process to eliminate the need to perform the task at all.
- Substitution could involve changing the product from 50-pound bags to 10-pound bags, which would reduce the magnitude of force required.
- Engineering controls could involve using lifting equipment so the worker is no longer required to lift the load manually.
- Administrative controls might include training workers on proper manual handling techniques.
- PPE could involve providing workers with back belts.
Manual handling training isn’t an effective control measure for reducing risk of MSIs if done on its own. However, training may be valuable if done in combination with control measures that are higher on the hierarchy of controls and as part of an integrated, multi-component safety program.
For more information, see this WorkCover Queensland article, Lifting technique training: Is it effective?