A large part of working in a warehouse or factory is all about picking up and moving heavy boxes, products and equipment by hand. Done safely and correctly, this needn’t cause any dramas and just becomes part of the working day. However, if it is not done right, manual handling can lead to painful injuries and exacerbate long-term conditions to the extent that people are unable to work any longer.
This is an issue that could affect anyone involved in moving and handling goods. According to the Labour Force Survey, around 20% of workplace injuries came after handling, lifting or carrying something in 2015/16*. Warehouse managers are responsible for the well-being of their teams and must provide adequate protective equipment, decent working conditions and suitable training. However, there is plenty that everyone can do to keep themselves safe. Starting with asking the right questions of themselves, their managers and colleagues.
What is a manual handling injury?
Joints, tissues, ligaments and tendons tend to be the areas most affected by a manual handling injury. Manual handling injuries will be painful with a throbbing, aching or burning sensation. They can also be accompanied by numbness or tingling. Also look out for stiffness or swelling in the affected area or a reduced range of movement.
Catching symptoms and understanding them early is key to preventing long-term problems, such as sciatica or arthritis. Injuries don’t just come from a single heavy lift; repetitive movements can cause just as much damage over time. Then, there are the injuries caused by dropping something heavy on the foot, toe or other parts of the body.
How can I prevent this from happening to me?
First of all, it seems obvious, but avoiding unnecessary manual handling will help keep you safer at work. If something heavy is delivered, for example, take it straight to its final location if possible, rather than needing to move it twice. Can you break down heavy contents into two or more loads in smaller containers? Can the process be dealt with by a trolley, hoist or machinery, rather than a human being?
Always carry out a risk assessment ahead of the manual handling process. Make sure those involved have been adequately trained and are deemed to be fit and healthy enough to cope. Are there any additional risks to consider, for example, if the contents are toxic in nature or involve liquid chemicals. Are the surroundings as safe as possible with no hazards such as trailing flexes or unsteady piles of boxes nearby?
How can management help keep their workforce safe?
First and foremost, adequate manual handling training must be supplied (and refreshed regularly) to all relevant team members. Secondly, first aid provision must be available and easily accessible in case the worst does happen. Management must ensure that the workplace is laid out as ergonomically as possible with warnings of any hazardous areas, proper lighting, level floors and clear sight lines in loading and storage areas. Protective clothing must be supplied and maintained. Any more vulnerable workers, for example, those who are older, pregnant or suffering from pre-existing conditions should be excluded from manual handling tasks or supported when doing lighter duties.
* Source: www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj