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Sheila Pantry Associates Ltd


Focus Archive

Did You Lighten Your Load?

May 1997
Sheila Pantry, OBE

Well over a year ago the UK Health and Safety Executive launched a workplace campaign to reduce the toll of work-related musculoskeletal ill health which encouraged everyone at work to take sensible actions to avoid the risks of such ill health by poor work practices.

Aches and pains in the muscles and joints after unaccustomed activity can affect anyone and people usually recover from them in a few days. Obviously if these aches and pains persist or get worse them it is a sign that his/her activity presents a risk of more serious damage and preventative action needs to be taken.

Spinal injuries and back pain are among the leading causes of lost productivity in Europe. Back injury causes untold pain anxiety and hardship to sufferers. It costs governments and organisations in healthcare benefits and compensation.

The European Directives on Management of Health and Safety at Work and on Manual Handling transposed into UK legislation The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, Statutory Instrument 1992 No 2051, and The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, Statutory Instrument 1992 No 2793 both require the employer to consider the risks in the workplace.

Assessing and reducing the risk of injury

The employer should:

Employees also have duties to:

Self employed people should also be aware of the legal requirements and take care for their own safety.

How big is the Problem?

Over a third of all accidents reported each year to HSE and local authorities arise from manual handling - the transporting or supporting of loads by hand or by bodily force.

Most of the reported accidents cause back injury, though hands, arms and feet are also vulnerable. On average each three-day injury results in 20 days off work. The cost is enormous - a recent HSE report states that where an employee is only off work for a few days it is likely to cost 3000, and a major accident will cost about 16,000. And sometimes the victim never fully recovers.

Many manual handling injuries build up over a period rather than being caused by a single handling incident. These injuries occur wherever people are at work - on farms and building sites, in factories, offices, warehouses, hospitals, banks, laboratories, and while making deliveries.

Problems and Solutions
Problems to look for when making an assessment Ways of reducing the risk of injury
The tasks, do they involve: Can you:
holding loads away from trunk? improve workplace layout to improve efficiency?
twisting, stooping or reaching reduce the amount of twisting upwards? and stooping?
large vertical movement? avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height?
long carrying distances? cut carrying distances?
strenuous pushing or pulling? unpredictable movement of loads?
repetitive handling? avoid repetitive handling?
insufficient rest or recovery time? vary the work, allowing one set of muscles to rest while another is used?
a work rate imposed by a process?
The loads, are they: Can you make the load:
heavy, bulky or unwieldy? lighter or less bulky?
difficult to grasp? easier to grasp?
unstable or unpredictable? more stable?
intrinsically harmful, e.g. sharp or hot? less damaging to hold?
Have you asked your suppliers to help?
The working environment, are there: Can you:
constraints on posture? remove obstructions to free movement?
poor floors? provide better flooring?
variations in levels? avoid steps and steep ramps?
hot/cold/humid conditions? prevent extremes of hot and cold?
strong air movements?
poor lighting conditions? improve lighting?
restrictions on movement or posture from clothes or personal protective equipment? consider less restrictive clothing or personal protective equipment?
Individual capacity, does the job: Can you:
require unusual capability?
endanger those with a health problem? take better care of those who physical weakness or are pregnant?
endanger pregnant women?
call for special information or training? provide training?
give your employees more information, e.g. about the range of tasks they are likely to face?

Prevention makes good sense

Consider the costs of musculoskeletal problems.

In addition, there a number of organisations which offer specialist help - such as the Ergonomic Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), British Safety Council and the Health and Safety Executive's Employment Medical Adviser. A project funded by the European Commission has resulted in a new interactive multimedia product called ISPINE - Multimedia Information on back injury prevention.

ISPINE offers workers and employers practical information and advice which can help to improve work practices, efficiency and safety in the workplace. It shows how fitness for work, correct handling of tools and equipment, proper techniques for repetitive or heavy lifting, and attention to the ergonomic design of the workplace can greatly reduce the risk of strain and injury to the back.

So, what are you doing to improve the practices in your workplace?

The products mentioned in this article are available for a free trial. Why not try these for yourself and check out the contents of these exciting sources of information against your own workplace needs?

Further Information

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, 14 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4ED. Tel: (0) 171 242 1941

Osteopathic Information Service, 27 Soho Square, London W1V 5DG. Tel: (0) 171 493 7177

Occupational Therapists, 6/8 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1HL

British Chiropractic Association, 29 Whitley Street, Reading, Berkshire RG2 OEG. Tel: (0) 1734 757557 For direct line to your nearest BCA Chiropractor - Call Freephone 0800 212618

The Institute of Pure Chiropractice, 14 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HH. Tel: (0) 1865 246687

ISPINE, Irish Medical Systems, Clara House, Glenageary Park, Co. Dublin, Ireland Tel: 4353 1 284 0555. Fax: 4353 1 284 0829.

Employment Medical Advisory Service (Contact local HSE office)

Association of British Chambers of Commerce, 9 Tufton Street, London SE1P 3QB. Tel: (0) 171 222 1555

National Back Pain Association, The Old Office Block, Elmtree Road, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 8ST Tel: (0) 181 977 5474

Priced Publications

Manual Handling: Guidance on the Regulations, L23 ISBN 071760411X

Guidance on Manual Handling in the Health Services, ISBN 0717604306

Getting to Grips with Manual Handling Problems, ISBN 0717606228

Manual Handling in Drinks Delivery, ISBN 0717607313

Work Related Upper Limb Disorders - A Guide to Prevention, HS (G) 60 ISBN 0717604756

Manual Handling: Solutions You Can Handle, HS (G) 115 ISBN 0717606937 A book of case studies on solutions to upper limb disorders and other ergonomic problems

Free Publications

Getting to Grips With Manual Handling: A Short Guide for Employers - IND(G) 143L

Manual Handling Assessment in Paper and Board Mills - IAC(L) 86

If the Task Fits: Ergonomics at Work - IND(G) 90L

Upper Limb Disorders: Assessing the Risk - IND(G) 171L

HSE books can be ordered direct from: HSE books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS, Tel: 01787 881165. Fax: 01787 313995.