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June 10, 2024

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common workplace hazards

Manual handling: Top 10 team lifting tips

SHP hears from Praxis42 on manual handling risk and best practice for protecting employees at work. 

Employers are responsible for reducing manual handling risks to employees ‘as far as reasonably practicable’, under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. The regulations state that manual handling should be avoided, when possible, where there is a risk of injury.

When manual handling can’t be avoided, team lifting is one way to reduce the risks because the load is shared. With one in three accidents at work caused by manual handling, it is important to take practical steps to protect employees.

The tips below will help you ensure team lifting is as safe as it can be.

1. Check weight

Credit: Alamy Stock

Before lifting a load, visually inspect its size, shape, and density, and lift one corner to help you estimate the weight. This can help you decide how much help you will need to lift it. Bear in mind that the load may feel heavier when it’s in motion.

You might need to use handling aids like handles, slings, or straps to help distribute the weight between the team and provide better leverage and control.

Think about using additional equipment if the load is very heavy. For example, carts, conveyors, cranes, forklifts, hoists, or pallet trucks.

2. Determine height

Estimate how high the load will need to be lifted to reach the destination. If the load is going to be lifted a considerable height, it’s advisable to use additional equipment (see ‘Check weight’ above).

Organise the team around the load, considering each person’s strengths.

The lifting technique the team use should depend on how high the load will be lifted. When lifting from the floor up to shoulder height, for instance, the load might need to be placed on a table mid-way so people can change their grip.

3. Assess environment

A thorough assessment of the environment must be carried out before a load is lifted. Check that pathways aren’t obstructed by obstacles, and floors aren’t slippery. Look for uneven or loose flooring that might be a trip hazard.

Check that there is enough room in corridors to transport the load, and doors are wide enough to allow for easy movement. Think about how well lit the area is. Do you need to use additional lighting so obstacles or hazards are not obscured? Are there any people not involved in the lift who might be in the way?

Address all issues you can and consider an alternative route if needed. Alert the team to any remaining hazards before lifting.

If lifting outdoors consider traffic movements, how weather conditions may impact the stability of the load, and how temperature and humidity will affect the team’s comfort when lifting.

Further reading: Manual Handling: Using risk evaluation tools

4. Communicate clearly

Effective communication is the key to safe team lifting. It’s important to make sure each person understands their responsibilities and the potential hazards ahead of the lift. Explain who will lead the lift, who will provide support, and who will oversee the process, so everyone knows what to do.

During the lift, communication between team members is crucial for coordinating movements. Use clear, succinct instructions, such as “Ready to lift” or “Lowering now,” to synchronize actions. You might implement a counting system to help teamwork run smoothly.

In environments with high noise levels or limited verbal communication, establishing hand signals or gestures can be helpful.

Keep a dialogue going with the team throughout the lift so everyone is informed of progress. Adjust the initial plan if necessary so the process is as efficient and safe as possible. Team members will need to coordinate their movements, ask questions if they are uncertain, and alert each other to hazards.

5. Don’t twist

Before lifting, make sure the path is clear of obstacles. Try to plan the route to avoid narrow spaces and uneven floors so the team don’t need to twist around.

Ensure the load is positioned squarely in front of team members and facing the direction of movement to prevent awkward postures.

Encourage the team to bend their knees when lifting and maintain a proper posture (see below), keeping a neutral spine (often referred to as a straight back), and lifting from their legs rather than their back to reduce strain on the spine.

6. Bend knees

Prevent strain on the lower back by bending at the knees when lifting. This means the leg muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes take the weight instead of the back. Lowering the centre of gravity also prevents people from losing their balance and tipping during the lift.

Bending the knees when lifting reduces the risk of sudden shifts in posture and jerky movements that can cause musculoskeletal injuries.

7. Grip securely

Credit: Alamy Stock

Encourage the team to grip the load by spreading their fingers evenly, and not squeezing too tightly. They should have a comfortable grip to maintain control throughout the lift. If they need to change their grip when lifting, they should do so smoothly to make sure the load doesn’t become unstable.

When dealing with heavy or unwieldy loads, consider utilising lifting aids like handles, straps, or grips to evenly distribute the weight and alleviate strain on the hands.

Gloves might be required to enhance grip and protect the hands from rough or abrasive surfaces or objects with sharp edges. Select gloves appropriate for the task, considering grip strength, flexibility, and level of protection.

Regularly check gloves to make sure there isn’t any damage that could compromise their effectiveness.

8. Maintain proper posture

Maintaining proper posture throughout the lift reduces the risk of manual handling injuries and muscle fatigue by making sure the weight is distributed evenly throughout the body, instead of straining one area.

Gentle stretching exercises after a lift can help to reduce stiffness or soreness but evidence is conflicting about whether stretching can reduce the risk of injuries.

9. Minimise time spent manual handling

Identify ways to minimise the time everyone spends lifting heavy objects. This could involve streamlining processes, providing lifting aids or equipment, or redistributing heavy loads among team members.

Encourage team members to alternate lifting tasks to prevent muscle fatigue. Rotating positions ensures that no one person is subjected to the same repetitive movements for an extended period.

Develop a job rotation schedule where team members switch between lifting tasks and other activities. This allows individuals to vary their movements and reduces the strain on specific muscle groups.

Breaks should be incorporated into the work schedule to ensure that everyone has sufficient time to rest and recover between lifting tasks.

10. Undertake manual handling training

Manual handling training helps reduce the risk of injuries associated with lifting tasks.

Employees who are well-trained in manual handling are more likely to identify unsafe practices and take appropriate measures to mitigate risks, creating a safer working environment for everyone.

Manual handling training ensures employees know when to avoid manual handling, what equipment to use to reduce risks, and how to lift objects correctly by themselves and when working as a team.

Efficient lifting techniques can also help employees perform their tasks more quickly and effectively improving operational efficiency.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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