Without proper measures in place, manual handling is a hazard that can lead to long-term health problems. Moreover, it remains one of the most common in the construction industry today, affecting one out of every four construction workers.
This creates a problem not only for the workers directly involved in building works, but also for their employers who are responsible for protecting their employees from the dangers of manual handling.
Fortunately, the bulk of manual handling injuries can be prevented by employers with the help of proper risk assessment, training, and supervision, as well as the implementation of safe work procedures. As such, employers must be aware of what manual handling is and how to manage it in the correct manner.
What is Manual Handling?
According to current construction regulations, manual handling means the transport, support, or carrying of a load by bodily force or hand. This includes lifting, stationing, transporting, carrying, transferring, and manoeuvring the loads needed during a construction process.
While the lifting and moving of objects is extremely common, there are a lot of ways it can go wrong. If done incorrectly, manual handling can lead to the steady deterioration of the mental and physical health of construction workers, which can lead to permanent disabilities. These disabilities often render the worker unable to work which results in lost working days and deducted pay.
Consequences of Poor Manual Handling in Construction Sectors
If you have ever wondered what percentage of workplace injuries are caused by manual handling, the answer is more than 30%. This encompasses everything from bruises, fractures, cuts, neck injuries, and upper limb disorders.
The consequences of injuries caused by manual handling can often be dire and result in missing weeks of work and a large number of hospital bills. Here is a look at some of the most common injuries caused by manual handling:
- Musculoskeletal Disorders
Disorders of the nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, muscles and spinal discs are known as musculoskeletal disorders or MSD. Musculoskeletal disorders can cause severe pain in the shoulders, neck, upper limbic region, back, and lower limbic region.
Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) are extremely common in manual handling in construction. These often worsen over time due to the condition of the work and can keep employees out of work for prolonged periods.
Another common injury seen in construction are sprains. A sprain is caused by the twisting the ligaments of a joint that results in severe pain and swelling that requires prompt medical attention. This type of injury occurs when a heavy load is picked up manually and prolonged use of the injured joint can result in muscle deterioration.
A hernia occurs when an internal organ ruptures through the tissue wall that is meant to contain it in the abdominal cavity. Most of the hernias occur within the abdominal cavity and are caused by heavy lifting. It is a serious medical condition that requires invasive surgery and will keep the labourers out of work for several weeks.
- Prolapsed Discs
Herniated or prolapsed discs are often results of muscle degeneration. People from the age of 35 to 45 are the ones most at risk. But more often than not, people in this age group get herniated discs from strain and twisting caused by lifting heavy objects.
People working in jobs that require manual handling and physical labour are more likely to experience a herniated disc. This kind of work can accelerate the degeneration of muscles and lifting, bending, pulling, pushing and twisting can cause a herniated disc.
There is no cure for a herniated disc and people suffering from it have a long road of excruciating pain and restlessness in front of them. In severe cases, the prolapsed disc can also damage spinal nerves which can cause loss of sensation in your limbs.
Fractures are one of the most common injuries caused by the manual handling of heavy loads in construction. It can be caused by falling while carrying a heavy load and trapping the limb beneath it. The limbs trapped beneath heavy loads at a construction site have suffered so much damage that they get amputated.
- Mental Health Issues
With the workload trauma that every construction worker experiences, their mental and physical health are both affected. Long-term stress, anxiety, and depression can be triggered by dealing with permanent disabilities due to manual handling and their hard-to-manage symptoms.
Not to mention the financial stress on construction workers and their families for the treatment of these injuries which become a major cause for their depression and anxiety. These workers are bound to stay off work during their recovery which puts them under more stress.
These are only a few of the injuries associated with poor manual handling techniques which cause severe pain and trauma for the construction workers they also ruin their chance at a happy and healthy life.
What is the legislation associated with manual handling?
The main legislation surrounding manual handling is the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (amended 2002). Under this law it is required that employers first try to avoid manual handling where possible.
If manual handling cannot be eliminated completely, then a risk assessment must be conducted and steps must be taken to reduce the risk of manual handling.
Who is responsible for conducting a manual handling risk assessment? According to the law, employers are required to assess the risks of manual handling on a job site and reduce these risks as far as reasonably practicable.
How to Assess the Risks Involved in Manual Handling in Construction?
Risk assessment is an important evaluation that is carried out carefully and sufficient precautions must be taken to ensure the health and safety of the people working on site. The best step forward at times like these is to evaluate and reduce anything that may cause potential injury, accidents, or ill-health.
Here are some of the most common risk factors that can increase the risk of injury or accident on a construction site:
- Fixed Postures: Working in a fixed posture for a long period can be strenuous to the human body. It can cause muscle degeneration, cramps, fractures, and even herniated discs if the load is extremely heavy.
- Working Environment: The layout of the workspace, if cramped or poorly designed, can also force people to work in uncomfortable positions. If manual handling is involved, they are prone to slipping, twisting, and injuring themselves and their fellow workers.
- Heavy Weight Lifting: The weight of the object is the biggest risk factor in manual handling. Often objects meant to be carried by multiple people are being carried by a single person which can strain their muscles and joints.
- Large and Bulky Loads: The type of loads can also pose a risk to the construction worker during manual handling.
- Incorrect Postures and Movements: Awkward angles from which the loads are meant to be picked up can also be strenuous and pose a risk to the workers.
- Long-term Exposure: The duration for which the load is being handled by the person is also important to consider.
- Risk of Slips, Trips & Falls: Cracks in the floor or pockets of water can cause the worker to slip and injure himself and his fellow workers.
How to Reduce the Risks?
After assessing the risks of manual handling on a construction site, employers must then apply the hierarchy of risk controls to ensure the risk is suitably controlled. This is the law.
Ways to control the risk of manual handling include:
Eliminate the risk: The first and foremost option is to try and eliminate manual handling at all costs. If it cannot be eliminated, try to restrict manual handling and use machinery for the better part of loading and unloading. Powered or mechanical handling equipment like conveyor belts, electric hoists, or lift trucks can be used in place of manual handling.
In the case of machines, lifting and transport equipment is considered in place of manual handling, make sure no other work-related risks are being created through hand-arm vibration, smoke, or noise.
Reduce the risk: Find ways to reduce the weight of the load being lifted. You can do this by using weights that are lighter or more balanced. You can also re-organise the environment or task, so that those that conduct the lifting are less impacted. For instance, consider the distance and height that items must be lifted.
In addition, the use of mechanical lifting equipment can significantly reduce the risk that employees face.
Administrative Measures: Administrative measures must be considered if manual handling cannot be avoided. Heavy manual handling tasks must be carried out by multiple people and if possible, the load must be split into smaller portions for easier handling.
There should be optimum amounts of a break given while manual handling tasks are being undertaken. This will help reduce the overall strain. This can be done by alternating with other easier tasks so the muscles and joints have ample time to recover and stretch. This will avoid the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in construction workers.
Training: Proper training must be provided to anyone that conducts manual handling work. Managers must also be provided with training to understand how to effectively manage and prevent the risk of manual handling work.
This training must be directly applicable to the actual work that is conducted on site. It should involve the workforce in assessing the tasks that they do. The best training combines a theoretical element with hands on practice of the skills taught.
There are numerous training options available that do just this. For instance, companies such as Human Focus offer online health and safety training programmes that can be rolled out on any worksite. Coursework related to manual handling is completed on digital devices. After which, digital tools such as digital checklists and analysers allow supervisors to ensure the concepts are tested and implemented until they become routine.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Finally, employees must be provided with sufficient personal protective equipment to protect from the risks of manual handling. This includes things like safety shoes and gloves.
Frequently Asked Questions About Manual Handling
- How Often Should Manual Handling Training Be Carried Out?
While there are no set requirements for the period, it is recommended that this training should be held every three years. If there is a change in work practices or newer equipment is being used, manual handling training must be held to educate the workers and prevent possible injury and accidents.
- How Does Good Communication Reduce the Risk of Manual Handling?
Good communication can reduce the risk of manual handling by ensuring everybody is alert and comfortable with their assigned tasks. The entire crew must be in sync when carrying out an operation that requires good communication between the superior and all the workers for it to be done successfully. You must also convey to your superior if a certain load is too heavy for you to handle alone which will avoid the potential risk of injury.
- Which Age Group Suffers the Most Manual Handling Injuries?
Every single worker is at risk of an injury caused by manual handling as it is a tedious job. But work-related musculoskeletal disorders are more common in workers between the ages of 45 to 55 than in younger employees.
- What Else Do I Need To Know About Manual Handling?
While manual handling remains a significant risk across many industries there are numerous tools available to support employers in controlling this hazard. The health and safety provides guidance online on the legal requirements and what steps are required to manage this hazard sufficiently.
There are also a range of digital tools such as ergonomic analysers, which allow for supervisors to gauge whether or not employees are using proper manual handling techniques in the workplace. In addition, e-checklists allow the easy record keeping of controls such as checks before manual handling work is undertaken.