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How to avoid manual handling injuries at work

Many jobs involve an element of manual handling, from nursing to warehouse management. At it simplest, manual handling is all about the art of correctly picking up, moving and setting back down heavy objects (or people) without causing any injury to yourself, or damage to whatever is being manoeuvred.

Manual handling injuries can happen to anyone, and it is a sobering thought that according to statistics from a 2015/16 UK Labour Force Survey around 20% of workplace injuries in the UK were a result of an incident involving handling, lifting, or carrying something. In addition, poor handling practices can exacerbate an existing injury or medical condition. Managers are responsible for the well-being of their team members, and a bad injury can render someone unable to work for a long time – sometimes even for the rest of their life.

What is a manual handling injury?
Manual handling injuries occur when too much external pressure is put on part of the body, resulting in internal damage and pain. Typically affected areas include joints, tissues, ligaments and tendons. Such an injury will be extremely painful and will often be accompanied by a throbbing, burning or aching sensation, as well as numbness or tingling. Watch out, too, for stiffness, swelling or a reduced ability to move the affected limb or limbs.

Identifying the symptoms and treating them early on is key to preventing long-term issues, such as arthritis or sciatica. Additionally, injuries are not caused by one single heavy lift. Repetitive movements can cause severe damage over time, especially if they are not being performed safely.

What’s to be done?
There is plenty that an employer can do to prevent such injuries from taking place under his or her watch. Done correctly, manual handling just becomes part and parcel of normal working life. No drama! As well as adequate and regular training in manual handling, the importance of warning signs, accessible storage solutions and protective barriers and walkway systems can make a real difference.

Got any hints or tips?
It might seem obvious, but the most effective way to avoid a manual handling injury is to do less… manual handling. Think about ways in which you can reduce the need to lift heavy objects. For example, if you know that something heavy is about to be delivered, arrange to have it taken straight to its final location, rather than simply dumping it anywhere and then needing to move it again. If you find yourself lifting lots of boxes at once, can they be broken down into separate loads to be taken one at a time? Can you fashion some handles or find a trolley or ramp to help you move an awkwardly shaped item? Don’t forget to factor rest breaks into your working schedule. If your business is moving heavy objects regularly, investing in machinery to help the process could reap rewards time and time again in terms of avoiding injuries and reducing lost working hours.

What can my boss do to help?
Top of the list is supplying decent manual handling training, appropriate for the level of work being done, for all employees and contractors. This must be renewed regularly too. Just as important is an honest risk assessment of the health of anyone expected to lift and carry heavy or awkward objects in their line of work. Does anyone need to be excused from these kinds of duties, or allocated lighter tasks? Is the first-aid box fully stocked and can people access it quickly? Does everyone know how to call for professional medical help if required?

The premises must also be assessed and designed to allow for easier manual handling. For example, storage facilities must have accessible shelves, units and loading bays as appropriate, all marked out to ensure people’s safety. Machinery must be routinely serviced and stored in a designated area to prevent accidents from occurring during their use. Lighting, flooring and exits must be damage-free and designed for maximum visibility, accessibility and navigation.

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