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Manual handling advice given by ARMS to reduce accidents in the workplace

Aviva Risk Management Solutions (ARMS) wants employers to start asking more questions about whether or not manual handling can be avoided in an effort to reduce the risks involved with such a workplace task.

Kevin Chicken, training and consultancy manager at ARMS, explains the risks involved with manual handling and why minimising this type of task can prove beneficial to both companies and their employees

Manual handling is one of the most commonly reported hazards by employees, with 43 per cent of workers reporting injuries which can result in repetitive strain, joint problems and back pains.

Such musculoskeletal disorders can not only result in employees being injured but also can lead to long-term sickness if the injuries mean people are unable to work. This can cost businesses money in lost productivity, while many will have to pay for cover staff, as well as paying the wages of the ill employee.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that in 2007/08, two-fifths of minor injuries which needed three or more days absence were caused by lifting, carrying and handling. Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common occupational illness in Great Britain.

According to the HSE, as well as wage and overtime costs, manual handling incidents can also lead to retraining costs of employees, a loss of reputation with customers, civil liability expense, adverse publicity and, in some cases, prosecution.

Ensuring a good reputation for health and safety could be particularly important during the current economic climate. Clients and suppliers could be put off by staff absences and may see a firm with a high rate of manual handling injuries as a liability.

Not being able to show that manual handling risks are minimised could see clients and suppliers move their business elsewhere. Risk assessments, therefore, not only make health and safety sense but also make financial sense.

Risk assessments required to uncover manual handling hazards

In order to minimise the impact such injuries have on UK businesses, the first step Mr Chicken advises employers to take is to assess whether or not tasks require manual handling.

One way this could be done is through a risk assessment, which is required under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, information about which can be found on ARMS' website here.

Advising on the importance of a manual handling risk assessment, Mr Chicken says: "Manual handling risk assessments are an important risk management tool, employers need to understand that these assessments should not be approached as a tick-the-box exercise, it is important that the assessment drives the process for risk control by elimination and where this is not possible they mitigate any risks.

"This should be achieved by evaluating the current controls and examining if they are adequate or challenging if they can be improved."

Under the regulations, risk assessments are the employer's responsibility although other employees can provide input as they may be likely to be aware of the risks.

A risk assessment should identify inadequately controlled features of manual handling work and highlight the ones which need to be addressed first. This can allow employers to redesign the workplace environment or task to minimise hazardous manual handling.

For example, using mechanical aids could help with preventing carrying loads over a distance. However, Mr Chicken says this can not always be relied upon. Mechanical handling equipment may not be available and, in such cases, employees could be tempted to try and lift the load themselves - a danger a risk assessment may highlight. Mr Chicken states that in such a scenario, workers should reduce the size of the load.

Risk assessments should focus on four main areas: the load, the individual, the task and the environment.

The size, shape, weight and centre of gravity of the load should all be assessed, as should any physical hazards including sharp edges and chemical hazards which could require personal protective equipment.

Physical characteristics of individuals should be looked at in a risk assessment - could their height, size, training and knowledge increase the hazards involved with manual handling?

Thirdly, the task should be looked at, specifically, working at height, the use of machinery, frequency of the task and how long it lasts for.

Finally, the space and layout of the environment needs to be assessed, including the temperature, noise, vibration, light and weather.

Manual handling training also important for firms

Mr Chicken says that training employees in manual handling tasks as soon as possible could negate the need for re-training and other costs associated with an accident.

He states: "Training costs are often seen as an expensive solution but they are fundamental to all risk assessments and all employers have a duty of care both legally and morally to provide the necessary training and knowledge to their employees to allow them to undertake their jobs in a safe and controlled manner."

ARMS offers a three-day manual handling course which furthers the knowledge and understanding of employers of what needs to be done to comply with legislation. Once this course is completed, manual handling training can be passed on to colleagues.

The in-company Managing Musculoskeletal Risks course can advise on risk assessments, help employers put measures in place to prevent injuries from occurring and also help to encourage the use of safe manual handling techniques.

A short Manual Handling Awareness course is also available. More information about both courses can be found by contacting ARMS on 0500 55 99 77.ADNFCR-2134-ID-19563459-ADNFCR