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Identifying and assessing hazardous manual tasks

To help protect workers and reduce the risks of injury, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) should identify what manual tasks may potentially be hazardous.

Identifying risks

  • Consult your workers – they can provide valuable information about discomfort, muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards.
  • Review available information – such as records of workplace injuries and incidents, inspection reports and workers compensation claims to help identify which manual tasks may cause harm.
  • Look for trends – you may be able to identify trends or common problems from the data you collect. Trends may show that certain tasks have more characteristics that make them hazardous or that some characteristics are more common in certain jobs. Trends may help in deciding which manual tasks should be addressed as a priority.
  • Observe manual tasks – identify if they involve any of the characteristics of a hazardous manual task.

Assessing risks

Once a risk has been identified, a PCBU should conduct a risk assessment.

A risk assessment involves examining the characteristics of the hazardous manual task to assess whether the forces, movements and postures undertaken by the worker increase their risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

You should carry out a risk assessment for any manual tasks identified as being hazardous, unless the risk is well known and you know how to control it. A risk assessment can help you determine:

  • which postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk
  • where during the task they pose a risk
  • why they are occurring
  • what needs to be fixed.

For assistance refer to the Hazardous manual tasks risk management worksheet (DOCX, 408.02 KB).

Determining risk factors

Work through the following series of questions to determine which postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk. The Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 2193.82 KB) provides guidance that will assist in answering these questions.

  1. Does the task involve any of the following:
    • repetitive movement?
    • sustained or awkward postures?
    • repetitive or sustained forces?

    As a general guideline, 'repetitive' means that a movement or force is performed more than twice a minute and 'sustained' means a posture or force is held for more than 30 seconds at a time.

  2. Does the task involve long duration?
  3. If a yes response is given to Question 1 then the duration of the task should be determined.

    As a general guideline, long duration means the task is done for more than a total of two hours over a whole shift, or continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time.

  4. Does the task involve high or sudden force?
  5. Force is the amount of muscular effort required to perform, attempt to perform, resist or change a movement. Forceful muscular exertions can overload muscles, tendons, joints and discs and are associated with most musculoskeletal disorders.

    High force is exerted when large loads, relative to the body part doing the activity, are placed on muscles and other tissues. An indicator of a high force is when a worker describes a task as physically demanding, needs help to do it, requires a stronger person or two people to do the task, or where a normally one handed task requires two hands.

    Sudden force occurs when there is a rapid increase or decrease in muscular effort. Examples of sudden force include jarring, jerky or unexpected movements. It is particularly hazardous because the body must suddenly adapt to the changing force. Tasks which include sudden force typically generate high force as well.

  6. Does the task involve vibration?
  7. Prolonged exposure to whole body or hand arm vibration increases the risk of MSDs and other health problems The degree of risk increases as the duration of exposure increases and when the amplitude of vibration is high. Examples of tasks involving vibration include the use of hand powered tools or operating mobile plant.

  8. Is there a risk?
  9. The task involves a risk of MSD if you have answered ?yes? to either:

    • Question 1 and Question 2
    • Question 3.

    If you answered 'yes' to Question 4 the task may be a risk but requires further investigation.

A task may involve more than one risk factor. The more risk factors that are present, the higher the risk of MSD.

If you identify a risk you need to think about the sources of these risks that are present in the task. These will be the things that you may be able to change to eliminate or reduce the risk of MSD.

The main sources of risk are:

  • work area design and layout
  • the nature, size, weight or number of things handled in performing the manual task
  • systems of work
  • the environment in which the manual task is performed.

The Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 2193.82 KB) provides further guidance about assessing risks including a risk assessment worksheet in Appendix D.

Last updated
14 August 2017

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