Whether it’s stacking shelves, working on a conveyor line or entering data into a computer, most jobs involve carrying out some type of manual task.
If poorly designed or done incorrectly, manual tasks can become hazardous.
- If the risks associated with hazardous manual tasks are not eliminated or minimised they can cause significant and even irreversible injuries or disorders.
MSD are the most common work-related condition in Australia despite the fact there are known methods to eliminate or minimise them.
Identifying hazardous manual tasks
A hazardous manual task is where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, hold or restrain something. It can include:
- repetitive movement
- repetitive or sustained force
- high or sudden force
- sustained or awkward postures
- exposure to vibration.
These factors stress the body and can lead to a wide range of MSD.
Risk assessment of hazardous manual tasks
You should carry out a risk assessment for any manual tasks that have the potential of being hazardous or you have identified as being hazardous. The only time this may not be necessary is when the risk is well known and you are already aware of how to effectively control it.
A risk assessment of manual tasks will help you identify:
- Postures, movements and forces that pose a risk and at what point they may become dangerous.
- Why they are happening and what needs to done for it to be fixed.
Don’t forget to also identify and manage the psychosocial risks that can increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
- A well-designed work area, work procedures, ergonomically designed tools and equipment will help eliminate or reduce risk factors associated with hazardous manual tasks.
Failure to appropriately manage hazardous manual tasks may result in a breach of WHS laws.
General guidance is available in the model Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks and specific advice can be found in the model Code of Practice: Hazardous Manual Tasks and Identify, assess and control hazards.
Designing problems out
The best and most cost effective way to eliminate or minimise the risk of an MSD is to consider manual task hazards and risks during the design and planning stage of a workplace or a job. During this stage, hazards and risks can be ‘designed out’ before they are introduced into a workplace.
Designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant and structures have duties under the model WHS Act to make sure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that products don’t pose risks to health and safety when they’re used for the purpose they were designed or manufactured for. This includes ensuring they will not result in MSD risks.
MSD refer to an injury or disease of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system supports and protects the body and is made up of the bones of the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and other connective tissues that supports and binds tissues and organs together.
MSD may include:
- Sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons.
- Back injuries including damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, nerves, joints and bones.
- Joint and bone injuries or degeneration, including injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle, hands and feet.
- Nerve injuries or compression (for example carpal tunnel syndrome).
- Muscular and vascular disorders as a result of hand-arm vibration.
- Soft tissue injuries such as hernias.
- Chronic pain (pain that lasts longer than three months).
- Acute pain (pain that lasts less than three months).
MSD can occur:
- Slowly through gradual wear and tear caused by repeated or continuous use of the same body parts, including static body positions.
- Suddenly through strenuous activity or unexpected movements such as when loads being handled move or change position suddenly.
SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about lifting, pulling, pushing and manual tasks in the workplace. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.