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Think big when addressing hazardous manual tasks

Best practice

Think about the big picture using systems thinking and consider good work design principles (as opposed to using how to lift training) to address hazardous manual tasks (HMT) that have caused injuries in your workplace.

Using systems thinking to address HMT involves examining the many factors that contribute to an injury. It also recognises that a range of controls and strategies are needed to address the hazard and prevent injury. This includes factors which impact return to work such as treatment, communication and support from the employer and providers, and relationships with family and friends.

Remember systems thinking is different to a safety management system. Safety management systems focus on policies and procedures used to address work health and safety risks, while systems thinking is broad and considers interacting factors, including those internal and external to the workplace.

Why this is important

Designing good work increases positive and durable return to work outcomes.

One of your responsibilities as a rehabilitation and return to work coordinator is to ensure the risk of an injury reoccurring is discussed and addressed when you are supporting an injured worker to return to work.

Consult with the injured worker and work team to identify and change the amount of force, awkward postures and exposure in a task (for example), to help design safer and healthier work for the worker to return to, and to prevent further injury to all staff.

Your toolkit

  • Check out what to do after a HMT injury to help identify and address manual tasks risk factors at your workplace, and implement changes to prevent sprain or strain injuries.
  • Involve your workers. Talk to, encourage and empower them to record and report risks they identify when carrying out particular tasks. Because they do the work, they are best placed to identify risks and the solutions. Consider implementing the Participative ergonomics for manual tasks (PErforM) program, a simple manual task risk assessment designed to involve workers in safety and return to work.
  • Use this tip sheet for HMT training, which explains the six risk factors that lead to sprain and strain injuries, and examples of controls you can implement to reduce these risks.
  • Integrate HMT discussions into a tailored early intervention approach to support recovery and when you’re planning return to work.