Getting to grips with manual handling

Manual handling is the single biggest cause of injuries in the waste sector - so what can be done to minimise the risk? Alistair Bromhead offers some useful pointers

In the waste and recycling industry, manual handling is the single biggest cause of injuries, resulting in staff being off work for three days or more. At particular risk are those undertaking waste collection services, especially in a 'task and finish' environment where speed is everything.

In recognition of this problem, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has made the reduction of manual handling injuries one of its priorities for the sector. Local authorities and private companies that undertake domestic collections are under particular scrutiny. Many will already have received visits including HSE inspectors tailing collection vehicles to watch employees in action.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require organisations to identify manual handling operations with a significant risk of injury. The preferred option is always to eliminate the need for the task if possible and then to automate/mechanise. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to eliminate or automate manual handling tasks such as domestic waste collection. Therefore, we are stuck with risk assessment and taking whatever measures we can to control risk.

Lowering the risk
The term risk assessment can be a turn-off, conjuring up images of pointless paperwork simply to satisfy legal requirements. However, if undertaken properly, the process should lead to the identification of potential improvements to lower the level of risk. This aim will often not be achieved if people are asked to perform the assessment without sufficient training and the associated confidence that this should provide.

Consequently, manual handling risk assessor training should be undertaken to ensure that hazards are identified, evaluated and controlled as far as possible. A finding of most risk assessments will be that those undertaking the handling should be given training to help control residual risks.

A traditional approach to manual handling training has been to plonk students in front of a video for 20 minutes, or to run a short session looking purely at good lifting techniques. Given that staff will have been handling in their own way for 10 to 50 years, it is a tad optimistic to try to change this in 20 minutes.

The HSE is increasingly insisting, quite rightly, that manual handling training is adapted to reflect the nature of the handling being undertaken. Therefore, job specifics should be addressed as should the issue of motivation. A manual labourer told to go to a training room to be taught how to lift, will typically not approach the session with the greatest degree of enthusiasm. This is unfortunate as the individual potentially has a great deal to gain.

Work on your technique
Good technique will reduce the cumulative disc strain which accounts for two-thirds of serious back problems. If the individual suffers from an injury such as a prolapsed (slipped) disc, for a few months they will be on statutory sick pay with greatly reduced wages as well as physical inability to perform day-to-day activities they take for granted.

A trainee made aware of the personal benefits of good manual handling technique, who understands how their lumbar spine works, appreciates the impact of good and bad technique on their discs. If they are shown the key principles which can be applied to any manual handling situation, they should be a much safer employee than one plonked in front of a video.

Consequently, good manual handling training can have a real and lasting effect on the performance of staff. The number of staff that can benefit from such training, coupled with the level of turnover, means that it is sensible for companies to train up their own trainers to undertake these manual handling sessions.

The 'train the trainer' approach has the added benefits of allowing organisations to run the training when it is most convenient as well as enabling programmes to be tailored to the rigours of specific jobs. Finally, if the trainer training achieves a nationally recognised qualification, this will add kudos to the programme in the eyes of the employees, regulators and insurers.

The City & Guilds Manual handling Train the trainer programme is a two-day course designed to address all of the issues mentioned above. It enables trainers to achieve a nationally recognised qualification which equips them with the skills and tools to conduct manual handling training sessions as well as enabling them to undertake risk assessments.

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