What are the risks of manual handling?
The Health and Safety Executive state that in 2013 – 2014 manual handling caused nearly a quarter of all reported injuries, with an average of 6.6 working days lost for each. Fortunately, there were no fatal injuries in that year, but the types of injuries which can occur include strains; sprains; crush injuries, fractures, trapped fingers and cuts from sharp objects. An analysis of Network Rail handling injuries between 2011 – 2106 indicates that most of the reported accidents on the railway were strains/sprains to the back, though shoulders, knees and hands/wrists were also vulnerable to various injuries. This lost time can have a major impact on all workplaces, and costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds every year
Risks can be found in all work sectors, but health & social care, manufacturing and transport & storage are recognized as high-risk industries due to the number and nature of the manual handling activities. However, anyone involved in the moving and handling of goods and people can be at risk; there are risks in handling even light loads if done repetitively in poor conditions. Poor ergonomics and workplace layout are a factor in many hazardous manual handling tasks.
What’s a safe weight?
Many people say that there’s a 25 kg ‘safe handling weight’. This is not true. It all depends on, for example, where the load is handled, along with the other ‘ergonomic’ things mentioned above in TILE. The further the load is from the lower back area of the body, the more the ‘safe weight’ reduces. So, although most men could safely lift 25 kg if the load is held close to the body at between knuckle and elbow height, they can only safely lift 5 kg if the item is on the floor and more than half arms’ length away – 80% less. For a woman these weights are lower. Although some women are as strong as some men, many are not.
The diagram below gives weight guidelines for lifting and lowering which can be used as part of a well thought out risk assessment to reduce manual handling risks from lifting and lowering tasks. These assume the handling is taking place in reasonable working conditions with a load that is easily grasped with both hands by a fit, well-trained individual. Many of the tasks on the railway do not take place in such conditions.
These guidelines are not ‘safe limits’ for lifting and lowering. But work outside the guidelines is likely to increase the risk of injury, and weights may need to be reduced below the guideline values if there are environmental or other factors that could have an adverse effect on the activity or if it involves twisting or bending. Similarly, if the task is being carried out frequently then weights should be reduced.