Best Practice Management of Manual Handling Risk
Increasingly, organisations are adopting a safety vision of “Zero Harm” or with similar wording. The management of manual handling risk can be seen as a “final frontier”of achieving Zero Harm given that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) from hazardous manual handling accounts for approximately 70% of all workers compensation claims.
If organisations are commited to achieving the aspiration goal of “Zero Harm” they must have in place a best practice model of managing manual handling risk. This article aims to explore what are some of the best practice strategies for measurement and control of hazardous manual handling tasks.
Current Facts and Figures
Manual handling continues to be the most signicant contributer to workers compensation claims within Australia. Data from the Safe Work Australia “Compendium of Workers Compensation Statistics Australia 2009–10,” shows that “body stressing” is the common cause of 41% of serious* workers compensation claims over the past decade.
Overall “body stressing” claims reduced by 10% over the past decade with back claims reducing by 25%, however an overall increase in shoulder and lower limb injuries.
Published Victorian Workcover Authority data for 2010 – 2011 states that musculoskeletal disorders contributed for 68% of claims received at a total cost to Victoria of $1 billion a year with over 15,000 claims received at an average claim cost of $55,000 per claim.
* Definition of serious claim = incapacity requiring absence of work > 1 week.
Model WHS Regulations
The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations outline prescriptive requirements to what factors risk controls must be taken into account.
Section 60 of the WHS Regulations prescribes that a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) must manage hazardous manual tasks and risk controls must have regard to factors such as; postures, size and weight of items, movements, forces and vibration, systems of work, design of workplace. Safe Work Australia has also published a code of practice for “Hazardous Manual Tasks” dated December 2011.
Existing Management Methods
Historically there has been a large body of research and literature conducted on the management of manual handling risk. However considering the amount of information available, employers traditionally have focused their resources on two main management techniques; the provision of manual handling training and claims management. Issues associated with relying on these strategies include;
- Is considered low level control (Administration)
- The training is well intended but ineffective
- Requires appropriate supervision & monitoring of behaviour for compliance
- Not a risk control under the hierarchy of control as only applied after an injury has been sustained
Latest Assessment Techniques
The use of technology has enhanced the measurement of sources of potential manual handling strain.
The use of biofeedback measurement tools such as the “Body Strain Monitor,TM” pictured, enables postural and muscle activity data to be obtained when performing tasks in real time. The data can be utilised to objectively detect high risk periods of actvities when the body is under unnaceptable levels of stress. The equipment can also be used to measure the impact of control methods (e.g. using alternate equipment, techniques) by objectively assessing the impact on the body. The use of traditional measurement techniques such as risk assessment, force measurement and using ergonomic modeling continue to form a vital part of the identification and measurement of manual handling risk.
Current Control Options
The ongoing development and investment of higher order engineering controls, continues to increase the available control options available to manage MSD risk.
The definition of ‘reasonably practicable’ in relation to risk controls under Section 18 of the Model WHS Act, includes the requirement that controls are required to be implemented to the standard “what at the time was reasonably able to be done.”
As higher order options become more viable, these options can be considered to be reasonably practicable to be implemented. Some recent examples of effective higher order controls our clients have implemented include;
- Automatic palletising installation for food packaging.
- No human interaction with any part of operation.
- Robot picks up product, builds pallet to designated level.
- Completed pallet lowered to ground level, picked up by another robot controlled by Radio Frequency which delivers to storage area .
- Safeguarded area eliminating manual handling associated with palletising stock .
Pnuematic Roller for Bulk Paper Reels
- Air driven roller to roll large reels of paper into position for processing.
- Simple design of small rollers similar to trolley jack Design.
- Minimises force required to move 2000kg paper roll by machine operators.
- Provision of equipment significantly reduces Manual Handling demands on machine operators.