Manual handling is an activity that many people deal with during their day-to-day activities. It can be as simple as moving items from one place to another when you buy groceries from the market, or it can be something that you have to deal with at your workplace. Manual handling injuries are one of the most common work-related injuries that occur in the support service industry.
The onus on businesses to put effective safety controls in place regarding manual handling activities is not as high as the safety controls relating to other common, well-known, high-risk activities, such as correct work height or the hazards of confined spaces, yet we should not underestimate the impact of manual handling injuries. In severe cases, manual handling injuries can lead to permanent musculoskeletal disorders. Living with such injuries for a long time will heavily impact the quality of life of the injured person (and can place stress on their families as well.)
In this post, we outline some useful resources from the Department of Health & Human Services Victoria and Worksafe Victoria in order to give insight into manual handling and safety controls that can be implemented to mitigate the adverse impact of such activities and the injuries they cause.
What is manual handling?
According to the Department of Education and Training Victoria, manual handling refers to any activity requiring the use of force by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, hold or restrain something. Putting boxes on shelves, painting, gardening, cleaning, writing and typing are some examples of manual handling tasks. Manual handling injuries include strains and sprains.
What are the problems?
The task of moving and supporting people with a disability has been associated with musculoskeletal injuries within the disability services industry.
What are the risks?
Workers may be at risk of injuries from strains to the back, neck and shoulders when bending, twisting, lifting, pushing, pulling and exerting high or unexpected forces.
How can we prevent manual handling injuries?
According to the Department of Health & Human Services Victoria, not all manual handling tasks are hazardous. However, due to most jobs involving some form of manual handling, many workers are at some risk of manual handling injuries. Good posture and lifting techniques can help reduce the risks, but research also indicates that making changes to workplace design is the most effective way to prevent manual handling injuries.
What are the most common manual handling injuries in the disability services sector?
Worksafe Victoria Disability services occupational health and safety compliance kit indicates that four out of the six most common hazards in the disability sector are related to manual handling. These hazards are:
This post is an abstract of the Worksafe Victoria Disability services occupational health and safety compliance kit. It is only given as a guide that can be used for disability service providers. Each service provider should carry out a risk assessment that applies to their particular circumstances in order to come up with solutions that best suit them.
However, there are some solutions given by Worksafe Victoria that can help to mitigate the hazardous impact of manual handling.
Moving and supporting people with disabilities
When supporting a person who requires minimal physical support, equipment that could be used to reduce the risk of injury to workers includes hand/grab rails, electric stand chair, modified/specific chair, leg lifter, bed stick, dining chair with lockable wheels and walking aids such as a frame or stick.
When supporting a person who is able to partially assist, additional equipment to reduce the risk of injury to workers includes an electric hi-lo bed, a standing hoist to lift people into a supported standing position and transfer them from one location to another, and a mobile sling hoist to lift and transfer people short distances. A slide sheet, slide board, hi-lo change table, sock/stocking applicator and height-adjustable ergonomic chairs for workers and are also recommended.
When a person requires full support, additional equipment to reduce the risk of injury to workers includes an overhead tracking hoist to move a person from the floor, chair, bed or wheelchair. Ensure transfer equipment and aids are suitable for the task, are easy to use and maneuverability is maintained in good working order.
Supporting people with personal hygiene care
Identify hazards and address the risks associated with bathing, toileting or showering the person with a disability, taking into account the level of support the person requires.
Conduct an individualised assessment regarding the physical support needs of the client, including equipment and aids required.
Equipment or aids to support a person with a disability and undertake personal hygiene tasks should be assessed as suitable for the task and appropriate for the space, such as hoists or a shower chair. They should be readily available, easy to access from storage, easy to set up and use, and installed or supplied prior to service commencing. They should be maintained in good working order and assessed as appropriate for the needs of the person with the disability and safe for use by the worker.
Assisting people in wheelchairs
Worker involvement is important in the assessment and selection of a wheelchair in relation to: the client’s needs, worker safety environment, where the wheelchair will be used, ease of operation for client and workers and the need for attendant controls on electric wheelchairs. Regularly maintain and inspect wheelchairs (e.g. checks on tyre pressure, brakes, controls, tyre wear, fabric/structure, charging point and battery condition). If the wheelchair is client owned, include this requirement in the service agreement.
Develop procedures to identify the safest movement of the wheelchair and client. Provide workers with training in the use of wheelchairs including going up and down curbs, control on slopes, managing small lips of ramps and turning. Provide practical, supervised training exercises at a range of community locations (cafes, train stations, cinemas) and information provided by manufacturer and/or supplier if available.
Assess floor surfaces for minimal friction to assist ease of movement. Where necessary, modify existing flooring. Provide adequate space to maneuver (e.g. appropriate door widths). Develop and implement a system where, if changes are made to the home or environment, the organisation providing the support is notified (e.g. installation or removal of a portable ramp, home renovations). Conduct a pre-visit assessment of accessibility before engaging in community-based activities. Avoid sand, loose stone or dirt paths when using indoor wheelchairs.
Handling wheelchairs in and out of vehicles
Provide the lightest wheelchair that is suitable and safe for the client and activity. Provide manual wheelchairs that are collapsible with quick release wheels. Never lift electric wheelchairs or motorised vehicles such as a scooter. These should only be moved in a wheelchair accessible taxi or bus fitted with a hoist or a specially adapted vehicle.
Human bodies do have incredible capabilities, but they can also have many limitations. Knowing the capacity of your body is a key factor in preventing manual handling injuries. These injuries often happen when we forget this and push ourselves to the limit to get a job done, usually because it is quicker. Think first and then act. A very basic risk assessment before starting any activity can bring attention to what may go wrong and how we can manage the relevant risks.
As a service provider or business owner, you should focus on both training and auditing manual handling related activities. There are various solutions out there in the market that can fit your needs. At the same time, ensure all safety processes are followed, as they are meant to be.
Regular auditing and observation of tasks can help you identify gaps and implement action plans to address them. Improve staff awareness by consistent training, utilising better tools and solutions and undertaking routine auditing to ensure compliance. These steps are essential in managing manual handling tasks, preventing injuries and providing you and your staff with a higher quality of life.
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