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Four steps to manage hazardous manual task risks in the workplace

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Risk management is a four-step process for controlling exposure to health and safety risks associated with hazards in the workplace.

Step 1: Identify hazards

Examples of common hazards which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)

Hazard Potential harm

Manual tasks

Overexertion,  repetitive movement or awkward postures can cause muscular strain


Falling objects, falls, slips and trips of people can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or death

Machinery and equipment

Being hit by moving vehicles, or being caught by moving parts of machinery can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death

How to find hazards:

  • Inspect the workplace – regularly walk around and look at how people actually work, how plant and equipment are used, what safe or unsafe work practices exist as well as the general state of housekeeping. Look at the following aspects of work:
    • Physical work environment
    • Equipment, materials and substances used
    • Work tasks and how they are performed
    • Work design and management.
  • Make a list of all the hazards you can find, including the ones you know are already being dealt with, to ensure that nothing is missed.
  • Consult your workers – ask your workers about discomfort, as muscular aches and pains can signal potential hazards.  Worker surveys may also be used to obtain this information.
  • 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 as they may show that certain tasks have more characteristics that make them hazardous or that some characteristics are more common in particular tasks. Trends help to prioritise which manual tasks should be addressed first.
  • Information can also be sought from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.

Step 2: Assess the risk

Once a risk has been identified, a risk assessment should be conducted.

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 MSD.

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 and what needs to be fixed.

Ask the following questions to determine risk factors:

  • Does the task involve any of the following – repetitive movement, sustained or awkward postures or repetitive or sustained forces?
  • Does the task involve long duration?
  • Does the task involve high or sudden force?
  • Does the task involve vibration?

For assistance, refer to the Hazardous manual tasks risk management worksheet.

Step 3: Control the risk

The ways of controlling risks are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest, which is known as the hierarchy of control. You must always aim to eliminate the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Level 1
  • Elimination, e.g. automate the manual task (such as using remote controls), deliver goods directly to the point of use to eliminate multiple handling
Level 2
  • Substitution e.g. replace heavy items with those that are lighter, smaller and/or easier to handle, replace hand tools with power tools to reduce the level of force required to do the task
  • Isolation e.g. isolate vibrating machinery from the user, for example, by providing fully independent seating on mobile plant
  • Engineering e.g. use mechanical lifting aids, provide workstations that are height adjustable
Level 3
  • Administrative e.g. rotate workers between different tasks, arrange workflows to avoid peak physical and mental demands towards the end of a shift
  • Personal protective equipment e.g. heat resistant gloves for handling hot items, shock absorbent shoes for work on hard concrete floors

Note:  training in lifting techniques must not be the sole or primary means to control the risk of MSDs.

Step 4: Review risk control

Control measures that have been implemented must be reviewed, and, if necessary, revised to make sure they work as planned and to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

You should review control measures:

  • the control measure is no longer effective
  • a change that is likely to give risk to a new or different risk
  • a new hazard is identified
  • if consultation indicates a review is necessary
  • if a health and safety representative requests a review.

Keep records of the risk management process to both demonstrate compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act and regulations, and easily review risks for training, procedures, and following any changes to legislation or business activities.

More information

Last updated
06 August 2019

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Published: 08 Sep 2016
News type: News article

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