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No sprains, big gains

Reducing the risk of manual tasks injuries in the workplace

Work safe. Home safe. Farm safe.

It pays to be safe and healthy at work. Many employers and workers become complacent about manual tasks without any thought of it in their respective workplaces. But each year hundreds of Queenslanders injure themselves and fail to realise that their actions today can affect their lives tomorrow.

This film is about providing a solution by using the newly developed PErforM tool, which is designed to assist employers, safety officers and workers with a practical resource. It is a straightforward and easy to understand process to identify, manage and reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries in the everyday workplace.

We encourage everyone in the community to make a personal commitment to improving workplace safety and making sure you, your workers and loved ones come home each day without injury.

Watch the film and show it to people in your workplace. Only a positive change in work processes can make a difference.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 42MB)


PAM KNOBEL: Sure we realise each workplace is unique, and as such there's no one size fits all solutions to prevent these type of injuries. But as you'll see in this film there are some practical, simple and relatively inexpensive things you can do in your workplace to help reduce your risk of sprain and strain injuries.

BOB CAMPBELL: Anything that involves physical exertion, I would say is a manual task.

COLIN BYNG: It's a job that requires human effort.

Person A: Lifting manually by yourself, without the cranes and that.

Person B: Anything using your hands or…

Person C: Packing pallets. Loading pallets. Unloading pallets and all that sort of stuff.

PAM KNOBEL: A lot of people think manual tasks is just about heavy lifting and carrying. But there's loads more to it than that, if you'll pardon the pun.

PAM KNOBEL: Manual tasks are those workplace activities that require the use of force exerted by a person to grasp, manipulate, strike, throw and carry, move – as in lift/lower/push/pull, hold or restrain an object, load or body part. Phew!!

DR THERESE MCGRATH: A sprain or strain is a term that doctors use when they're talking about something that's not broken. So it's a soft tissue injury and that doesn't mean it's not serious and doesn't mean it's going to get better quickly because often they don't. Most people I see are not from heavy lifting, the sprains and strains are more from accumulative effect of the work duties that they do. Which might include doing things repetitively, or doing things that are forceful and also if they do them for a long time during the course of the day.

COLIN BYNG: I was actually in the process of lifting a sixty kilogram cake, which is a compressed, washed linen and I realised pretty well straight away that there was a problem.

PETER BALL: When I was younger, I worked hard. I was one of the boys. Let's get into, let's get it done.

COLIN BYNG: The pain was pretty bad. It was something I've never experienced before.

PETER BALL: And it all added up that when I got older then this injury I've got is going to be with me for the rest of my life.

PAM KNOBEL: Half of the problem with sprain and strain injuries is that people think they're a bit of a non-issue, but many of them are very serious and can have a huge impact.

DR THERESE MCGRATH: It impacts you on doing your activities in daily living that you need to do. Also what you might need to do in your workplace.

PETER BALL: The biggest impact of this injury has been the change to my lifestyle.

COLIN BYNG: It was painful enough…painful enough to sort of stop me from doing some of the normal duties that I was before that.

PETER BALL: I can't do sport anymore, that's just a no-no. I used to enjoy doing cricket umpiring. Not on. I can't stand out in the field. Activities with the family, not on. Maintenance around the house, I can't do that.

DR THERESE MCGRATH: There is an economic impact that they're not making as much money as what they would if they were at work. And then that then can cause them a lot of stress and stress on the family, and on the children as well. And then that can lead further on to marriage breakdown, people losing their house. And that's not an uncommon thing.

PETER BALL: Painkillers, well they're a part of life now whether I like it or not, I've got to take them. If I don't take them well then everybody else suffers for it because sometimes I'm not a nice person to get along with.

COLIN BYNG: I got off pretty easily I think when compared to other people.

PETER BALL: I would never had thought in a hundred years that I would suffer from this so much.

COLIN BYNG: I think about how lucky I've been all the time. You know, I think of how much worse it could have been.

PAM KNOBEL: A sprain or a strain not only affects the injured worker, but it can have a serious impact on the workplace to.

DARLENE MOORE: Well it affects everything. All the other workers, because they're left to take up the slack and probably have to work that bit harder until you can organise replacements and that sort of thing. Depending on the level of worker, obviously, if it's someone who's been here a while you lose a lot of knowledge. Managers then of course tend to pull their hair out because their production's out of whack. So once your production's down, your finances obviously and given the way economics are at the moment that's not a good thing for any industry to have to cope with.

DARLENE MOORE: It's good to see something that's actually usable and understandable, even for people like me. And that you can include the guys down the back.

PAM KNOBEL: Although a lot of workplace activities are manual tasks, not all of them are likely to cause an injury. There are heaps of ways to identify which manual tasks are risky and what you can do about them. While some risk assessment tools can appear complex, I'm going to walk you through a simple and really practical tool that you can use in your workplace. It's called PErforM. At the risk of scaring you off it stands for: Participative Ergonomics For Manual Tasks. Yep, that's a bit of a mouthful so let's break it down into some simple steps. By the way be sure to checkout the user friendly PErforM handbook for a more detailed explanation.

PAM KNOBEL: The first thing you need to do to start managing your manual tasks risks is to work out what high risk manual tasks you actually have in your workplace.

PAM KNOBEL: So how do you go about this? You could talk to your workers to find out what tasks they don't like doing because they're difficult or cause them physical pain. If you see tasks where workers have made improvisations such as standing on boxes and the like to reach things, this might also indicate that there's a problem. You should also take a look around your workplace, even video various tasks so you can watch them later and assess which tasks may be risky. But to do this you'll need to know what risk factors that you're looking for in the first place.

PAM KNOBEL: There are five risk factors that directly stress the body. These are forceful exertions, awkward and static postures, vibration, repetition, and duration. These are discussed in more detail in the handbook, but just briefly…

PAM KNOBEL: Forceful exertions are about the amount of physical effort needed to do the job. The more effort required to do the task the higher the risk of an injury because the muscles get tired.

PAM KNOBEL: Awkward and static postures is the next risk factor. Awkward postures occur when parts of the body move away from a comfortable neutral position. For example, the neutral position for the hand and wrist is the handshake position and the more you bend or twist it, the more awkward or uncomfortable it becomes.

PAM KNOBEL: Static postures refer to postures where a part of or the whole body is kept in the same position for a long period of time.

PAM KNOBEL: Repetition means making the same types of movements over and over again.

PAM KNOBEL: Duration relates to the amount of time it takes to do a task without a break. Duration becomes a risk if the task is done for more than an hour at a time.

PAM KNOBEL: The last of the five risk factors is vibration, and there are two types. The first is whole body vibration, which normally results from sitting or standing on a vibrating surface, for example, a forklift, dozer, tractor or platform. Hand-arm vibration is caused by holding on to vibrating equipment such as grinders, drills or jackhammers. This is particularly risky if the equipment isn't maintained properly. Okay, just to check, can you identify the risk factors in the following scenes?

PAM KNOBEL: If you've identified (a) as being an example of repetition, (b) as vibration, (c) as awkward and static postures, (d) as duration, and (e) as forceful exertion. Then you've got five out of five.

PAM KNOBEL: Now that you know what the five risk factors are, you'll find it much easier to identify the tasks in your workplace that have a higher risk of sprain or strain injuries. Once you've spotted the task to improve, the next thing to do is to work your way through the three steps of the PErforM risk assessment tool.

PAM KNOBEL: The first of these steps is to talk to your workers to gather the background information that you'll need to completed worksheet one, which is at the back of the handbook. The next step is to fill out worksheet two, which you'll also find at the back of the handbook.

PAM KNOBEL: The first thing to do here is to work out what parts of the body are affected by the task that's being performed. Again, you should ask your workers about where they feel sore or tired after performing a task. Or you can observe them performing the task to see if any of the other risk factors we talked about earlier are there. Now you need to mark these affected areas on the body map on worksheet two. If you think that several parts of the body have the same risk, for example the hand and wrist, you can group them together. If you're unsure, just rate each body part separately. If you decide to assess more than one body part or group, you can mark them on the body map in different colours to keep better track of them.

PAM KNOBEL: The second part to completing worksheet two is to rate each risk factor. This is done separately for each part of the body that you identified on the body map. The rating scale is from one to five and the higher the rating the higher the risk.

PAM KNOBEL: The third and final step at this point is to identify suitable controls for the risks in the tasks that rated the highest.

DARLENE MOORE: From someone who's had a lot to do with heavy manual tasks, I guess, it's certainly easy to use and it's quick. It really is fast. It allows buy-in from the workers, which is three-quarters of the problem half the time, if they can see some benefit it certainly helps you.

PAM KNOBEL: So let's put all this into practice. We're going to look at the example of unloading a pallet with the help of Jane. Jane is a safety officer at a supermarket.

PAM KNOBEL: Before kicking off the three PErforM steps, Jane firstly pinpointed a problematic task in her workplace – unloading a pallet. She saw this task as being risky because workers have experienced injuries or pain during or after unloading activities. Jane then followed the first PErforM step and gathered some background information about the task from the workers to help her fill out worksheet one. For this example, they received ten pallets a day, three days a week. It takes two to three hours for six workers to complete the task.

PAM KNOBEL: Step two, and Jane's now onto worksheet two where she needs to identify which parts of the body are affected and how she'll group them together. Jane has seen the potential trouble spots of the lower back, shoulder and the hand and wrist. The hand and wrist have been grouped together as they have similarities in their movements, position and effort.

PAM KNOBEL: The next thing she does is rate each risk factor for each body part. Exertion has been rated as a four for the shoulder, as there is a substantial amount of effort needed to move the boxes and the movements are fairly quick. Awkward posture has also been rated as a four, as the worker is reaching to one side of the body when picking up the boxes. There's no vibration involved in this task so we can rate this risk factor as a one for all body parts. The task takes two to three hours to complete, which fits in the five category for duration because it's greater than two hours. This rating is the same for all the body parts. The cycle time, which is the time it takes to pick up a box, put it on the trolley and go back to get another one is five to six seconds. So this would fit in the five category for repetition because it's less than ten seconds. The workers and Jane have completed the ratings for each of the other body parts.

PAM KNOBEL: Now that she's finished assessing the risk factors, she determines where the highest risks are. From the form, we can see that exertion and awkward posture for the shoulder and lower back and duration and repetition for all body parts rated in the four or five categories and need to be controlled very soon.

PAM KNOBEL: Her final step is to work out what she can do to reduce these risks. The first priority should always be to eliminate the risk altogether. But in this case it isn't an option. The next best plan is to come up with a design control. By raising the height of the trolley the risk to the back and shoulder can be reduced. Repetition and duration also rated highly, so the time that any one worker does the task needs to be reduced.

PAM KNOBEL: Now that the controls have been determined, Jane will have to make sure that all the workers know how to do the job the right way. This doesn't mean giving them lifting technique training, such as teaching them to bend their knees and keep their back straight, because this type of training alone doesn't work in reducing the risk of injury. Training needs to be specific to this task. Workers need to know how to use the new trolley. For example, how to adjust it, where it's stored and what maintenance is needed to keep it working the way it's supposed to.

PAM KNOBEL: And that's the PErforM process.

PAM KNOBEL: As we've seen in this film identifying risks and putting in control measures for manual tasks doesn't have to be difficult or costly. In most cases simple, inexpensive measures can result in huge improvements to safety in your workplace. Safety is not only good practice, it's good business.

DARLENE MOORE: I think using PErforM has made productivity a whole lot better.

BOB CAMPBELL: The financial performance of the organisation has increased five hundred percent since we've implemented these programs.

DARLENE MOORE: Like there was a set-up cost, you know, different jigs and all the rest of it and retraining workers, but it is going to pay off.

BOB CAMPBELL: Our employees also know that we value them. If we want our employees to show the same level of commitment to the product that we send out, then we have to show that same level of commitment to them.

PETER BALL: All I can say to anybody else faced with, you know, the circumstances I had if there's a better way to do it, do it. Don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to suffer the recurring pain that I've got.