Manual handling is simply a person (or people) moving something. You could be picking something up, or putting it down. Pushing, pulling or carrying. If you use your physical effort to move it, you are manual handling. We all carry out manual handling, in one form or another, every day.
For something so simple, it might surprise you to know that manual handling is responsible for over 30% of injuries at work.
Manual handling causes over a third of all workplace injuries. These include work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as pain and injuries to arms, legs and joints, and repetitive strain injuries of various sorts.
Why so many injuries? Well, it's likely to be because we don't expect anything to go wrong. We lift things all the time. We carry things often. It's normal. It's boring. But things do go wrong, and when they do, the consequences can be serious. And in some cases, life-changing.
So let's look at 7 types of manual handling injuries, and the hazards to watch out for.
When it comes to manual handling, your back is the weakest part of your body. Especially if you don't have good lifting technique. Or if what you are lifting is simply too heavy for your body to handle.
It's not just during lifting you need to watch your back. At any time you are carrying a load, poor posture can damage your back. Stooping or twisting can make your back more vulnerable to injury. Common back injuries include injuries to the spine and slipped discs.
Ever picked something up and regretted it after? Because it was much heavier or harder to grip than you realised? Or because over time, it became too much to handle? You're not the only one! But overstretching your muscles beyond their capacity can lead to inflammation, bruising and pain.
Muscular strains and sprains can happen during manual handling, often in the back, arms or wrists.
Lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling. Whichever type of manual handling activity you carry out, you usually grip with your hands. Depending on what it is you are touching, this could be a hazard in itself. If the load is hot, it could burn or scald your skin. If the load has sharp edges it could cut you.
Hand injuries don't always come from direct contact with the load, but also from where you are placing it. If the load is heavy, it could bruise you or even break a bone if you don't get your fingers out the way when you put it down. And your fingers could also get trapped between the load and other nearby obstacles like containers or walls. This is especially a concern during team lifts when other people are also moving the load.
Musculoskeletal disorders cover a range of issues and pain, in the upper limbs e.g. shoulders, neck, arms, wrists (upper limb disorders), the lower limbs e.g. hips, legs and toes (lower limb disorders), and back.
The term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back.
While we have already covered back injuries as a section on its own, musculoskeletal disorders can involve a range of symptoms that usually develop over time. It can be caused by repetitive lifting leading to damage, pain or stiffness in the joints or other tissues.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that affect the nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures, such as the discs in your back. They result from one or more of these tissues having to work harder than they’re designed to.
Slips, trips and falls can happen at any time, whether you are manual handling or not. And, they usually have their own causes. A spillage. A trailing cable. An uneven floor. So why does this makes its way into our 7 types of manual handling injuries? Because manual handling can increase the risk of this type of accident, and the resulting injuries.
Often, when you are carrying a load, some of your visibility is blocked. Especially at ground level. You might not see that cable on the floor, or that spillage, or notice your shoelace has come undone. Always assess the environment as part of your manual handling assessment, as the surrounding workplace can add additional hazards to your task.
And the consequences of a slip or trip when you are manual handling is higher. You don't have a free hand to hold a handrail or put out to break your fall.
A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall.
Repeated strain on the tummy can be the cause of a hernia, and most hernias will not get better without surgery. Over straining by lifting loads heavier than you can handle can result in a hernia, and you are at higher risk as you get older.
Manual handling activities should always be assessed, considering the load and the individual (think LITE), to make sure it is safe and lifting aids provided as necessary.
Despite the weight of the bench, no equipment was provided to enable the 49 year old man and his colleague to lift it safely. Lifting the bench to chest height, the man felt a distinct ‘pop’ in his stomach and found his belly button was protruding oddly.
You might not lift with your feet, but foot injuries still make into our 7 types of manual handling injuries. When manual handling causes a fracture, it's usually to the foot due to dropping of the load. This is an even bigger risk if you are not wearing protective footwear.
Lifting heavy loads, dropping loads from height (rather than carefully lowering them) and not getting a good grip can all lead to crushing, bruising or broken bones in the feet.