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How to minimise manual handling injuries

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If you’re hearing workers complain of soreness after a particular task, that’s an indicator that you need to assess the risks of manual handling in your workplace.

Musculoskeletal injuries caused by handling objects accounted for 6,088 new workers’ compensation claims in 2014-15, with an average cost of $6,244 per claim. They most often affect the back, shoulder/upper arm, and the wrist/lower arm.

Risk factors that cause these injuries include:

  • repetitive movement, sustained or awkward postures, high or sudden force
  • repetitive or sustained force
  • long duration
  • vibration.

When determining whether a task poses a risk, consider the following factors:

  • Repetitive movement or repetitive or sustained forces make a manual task hazardous and can cause muscular stress. ‘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.
  • 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.
  • High force is exerted when large loads, relative to the body part doing the activity, are placed on muscles or other tissues. Indicators  of a high force activity may include when a worker describes a task as physically demanding, needs help to do it, 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 this include jarring, jerky or unexpected movements.
  • Risk of injury from vibration increases as the duration of exposure increases and when the amplitude of vibration is high. For example, using powered hand tools for a long period of time may place a worker at risk of injury.

Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. If this is not practicable, then minimise the risk as far as possible. To develop control ideas, identify the source of the risk and then determine what things about the source of risk you could change. The main sources of risk are:

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

Use the Manual tasks risk management worksheet to help guide you through the steps of identifying, assessing, controlling and reviewing potentially risky tasks.

Businesses, such as the Laminex Group, have found that by implementing a risk management system to achieve their primary focus of reducing injuries, they also realised productivity gains and cost efficiencies.

The Laminex Group invited its workers,  occupational health and safety coordinator and warehouse supervisors to identify the risk level for every manual handling task. All tasks were logged in a spreadsheet and ranked in order from the most difficult and risky manual tasks to the simplest and least risky tasks.

This allowed the group to implement  control measures, such as an automated strapping machine that could remove 80 per cent of manual strapping from their warehouse and eliminate hundreds of thousands of manual tasks each year.

The Laminex Group learnt that their workers often come up with the best solutions because they have first-hand knowledge and experience of the tasks.

You can listen to the Laminex Group’s story, as well as other businesses’ injury prevention success stories in the Managing hazardous manual tasks film.

More information

Last updated
06 August 2019