Could workers be the key to reducing manual handling hazards and injuries in the workplace?
Australia wide business, The Laminex Group, certainly thinks so! The Group has been able to eliminate hundreds of thousands of manual tasks each year, thereby reducing the risk of injury, just by involving its workers in the risk management process.
Many injuries caused by hazardous manual handling tasks are musculoskeletal injuries which are often referred to as MSD’s sprains and strains. In Queensland, more than 50% of workers’ compensation claims are related to musculoskeletal disorders. Hazardous manual handling tasks are the primary cause of MSD’s and most often affect the back, shoulder/upper arm and wrist/lower arm.
In this article we take a look at the role workers can play in reducing hazardous manual handling tasks, what employers could do to minimise the risk of injury from these tasks, and also identify when an injured worker may be able to claim.
While manual handling tasks are common in many industries, it is important to note that not all manual tasks are hazardous. However, for those tasks that are hazardous, it is crucial that they are identified so that they can be properly managed.
What are hazardous manual tasks?
Hazardous manual handling tasks often involve:
- Repetitive movement, sustained or awkward postures and high or sudden force;
- Repetitive or sustained force;
- Long duration; and
- Exposure to vibration.
By identifying hazardous manual tasks and implementing controls employers can prevent, or reduce the likelihood of injuries from occurring. However one business has recently discovered that the key to reducing hazardous manual handling tasks could actually lay with the worker!
Involving workers in hazard identification and management
Recently The Laminex Group invited its workers, occupational health and safety coordinator and warehouse supervisors to identify the risk level for every manual handling task, ranging from most risky to least risky. This then allowed the business to implement appropriate control measures. Laminex Group also found that workers often identify the best solutions to risks because they have firsthand knowledge and experience of the tasks.
While the involvement of workers in the risk management process was something new for The Laminex Group, the idea itself is already well established. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland along with the University of Queensland and Curtin University of Technology have developed a program specially designed for this concept. Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks (known as PEforM) is a simple manual task risk management program based on participative ergonomics.
The PEforM program:
- Provides a framework to help employers engage with workers at all level to identify, assess and control manual tasks risks within their workplace;
- Has been used successfully in a wide range of industries;
- Can be applied to most types of hazardous manual tasks.
What to do if you have a manual handling injury
If you have suffered an injury arising from a manual handling task at your work, or because of your work, you may be able to claim compensation. To be successful in your application for compensation with WorkCover Queensland or a relevant self-insurer you will need to show that your personal injury arose out of, or in the course of, your employment and your employment is a significant contributing factor to your injury.
If your claim for compensation is accepted you will be entitled to receive statutory benefits for:
- Medical and rehabilitation expenses;
- Wages lost during any period you are incapacitated for work by reason of your injury;
- A lump sum payment if you have suffered a degree of permanent impairment.
In addition to these statutory benefits an injured worker may also be able to successfully claim common law damages against their employer if they can prove that their injury was caused by their employer’s negligence.
An employer has a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. An employer must, as far as it is reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of injury to their workers by eliminating or minimising hazards in the workplace.
How to minimise manual handling hazards and injuries
To reduce the risk of manual handling injuries in the workplace employers should undertake the following steps:
- Identify manual handling hazards;
- Assess the risk of injury by conducting a risk assessment;
- Implement control measures that either eliminate the risk or minimise it through design changes;
- Monitor and review controls to ensure they are working and new problems have not been created.
Hazardous manual tasks account for a high proportion of workers compensation claims across all industries within Queensland. Employers should implement certain methods to reduce the risk of injury to their workers, and given the success recorded by The Laminex Group, perhaps they could start by taking suggestions from their workers.
Often workers can be the key to reducing injuries associated with hazardous manual handling, as they are the ones with the knowledge and experience of the hazardous tasks. Whether an employer decides to involve their workers in finding ways to reduce the risk of injury or not may come down to a personal choice or company policy, but what is not a personal choice is their obligation to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their workers.
If they fail in this duty, they may be liable in negligence to an injured worker. Employers must identify hazardous manual tasks and implement control methods that either eliminate or reduce these tasks in the workplace so that workers may return home injury free at the end of each working day.