Picking up an object and moving it is something that millions of people do daily in both the home and the workplace without giving it a second thought.
We all take for granted that it won’t cause us pain, discomfort or injury but the reality is far removed from this perceived wisdom, or should we say lack of it.
At some point in their life, almost everyone will suffer from back pain, it’s only the lucky few who will escape it, and that’s more due to luck than good judgement.
In the UK alone, more than 12 million working days are lost every year through back pain. There are a variety of reasons, but this is mostly caused by sprains, strains, people being out of condition and not able to cope physically and in some cases, due to other health conditions.
Sprains and strains can be caused by attempting to handle a weight beyond the person’s capability and in extreme cases, these can cause severe and life-changing injuries, such as slipped discs.
Most non-specific back pain can be split into two types. Acute pain that lasts for less than six weeks, and chronic pain, where this lasts longer than six weeks.
In any workplace, there are activities carried out on a daily basis that exposes some of the workforce to greater risks than others, for example a porter is more likely to injure themselves than the manager who is supervising the work.
Activities with a high injury risk include:
• Bending and twisting;
• Heavy and/or repeated lifting
• Working for too long without breaks
• Using poor technique or too much force
• Uncomfortable working positions
• Adverse working conditions (hot, damp, cold or wet)
To help prevent manual handling injuries in the workplace, you should avoid such tasks as far as possible. However, where it is not possible to avoid handling a load, employers must look at the risks of that task and put sensible health and safety measures in place to prevent and avoid injury. It’s also advisable everyone in a workplace obtains suitable training in correct manual handling techniques.
Manual Handling training should include:
• The dangers of back and spine injury
• Identifying and avoiding dangers
• Good handling and moving techniques
• Using handling and lifting equipment;
• Individual capabilities and limitations;
• Recording incidents or injuries.
An Employer’s responsibilities
An employer is responsible for preventing or minimising the risk of an employee suffering back injuries, particularly as a result of manually lifting or moving objects at work.
There are strict laws covering employers’ responsibilities and each employer should have a written policy as part of their safety policy.
The employer is responsible for minimising the need for lifting or moving as part of any job, providing equipment if necessary, as well as training in manual handling techniques.
Where manual handling can’t be avoided, employers must do what they can to reduce the risk of injury “to the lowest level reasonably practicable”.
The employer’s responsibilities also extend to wherever a person has to work, even if this is working off-site or in a variety of locations.
The employer must also carry out “suitable and sufficient” health and safety risk assessments to make sure the measures they’re taking are adequate and meet legal requirements. They also compelled to regularly review risk assessments and safety procedures.