Manual handling is a very common practice in any home or work environment. It involves any activity that includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, holding, or restraining something, especially if it is large, heavy, or awkward to move. Repetitive movements or strained / held postures for extended periods of time are also a form of manual handling. Some examples of manual handling include putting boxes on or off shelves, cleaning, writing at a computer for long periods, gardening, and moving furniture around the house.
A major issue is that individuals often habitually pick up poor manual handling techniques and continue to use them throughout their lives, including the workplace. Improper manual handling techniques cause over a third of all workplace injuries (both major and minor.) Potential injuries include neck and back damage, hernia, carpel tunnel syndrome, sprains and sprains, and even cuts, bruises and broken bones. All of these injuries are easy to prevent with a little knowledge and training.
The first step to conducting safe manual handling is to identify the potential risks when approaching any task:
- Do you have existing injuries or issues?
- Will you have to adopt an awkward or sustained posture?
- Will there be vibration or sudden forces?
- Are you required to do the task alone?
Consider the above before proceeding.
Now you need to consider how to mitigate the risks wherever possible. There are three common ways you can do this:
- Change the task itself (e.g. avoid doing the whole task at once: break it into smaller steps, take a break and rest partway through, or get someone else to help you carry out the task)
- Change the object (e.g. lighten loads by breaking them into smaller loads, or use a mechanical aid to help move the load)
- Change the workspace (e.g. move obstacles out of your intended path, make changes to your desk to avoid wrist strain, etc.)
Finally, here are some tips that can help you perform a variety of manual handling movements:
- Keep your spine as straight as possible
- Bend with your knees and hips, not with your back
- Avoid twisting while performing tasks. Try to keep facing forward and turn your whole body if required
- Use a mechanical aid wherever possible
- Try to push, rather than pull whenever possible
- If straining your arms or legs, you will need tools to extend your reach (telescoping brushes, stepladders, etc.)
- Take regular breaks