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Safe Work Australia developed the HAZARDOUS MANUAL TASKS Code of Practice in December 2011 to assist PCBU’s to control the risks associated with hazardous manual tasks – formerly known as manual handling and ergonomics.

Hazardous manual tasks are inherent in most industries and a risk management approach should be adopted by PCBU’s to ensure all hazardous manual tasks and ergonomic hazards are appropriately identified, controlled and reviewed in consultation with workers.  Records should be maintained of all assessments, control measures and review processes.  Best practice would be to review these at least once every three (3) years or sooner if circumstances dictate.

A key component in the management of hazardous manual tasks is to eliminate where possible or minimise the risk where it cannot be eliminated.  The use of mechanical and other aids should be emphasised and recognised as the next option.  The PCBU must, so far as is reasonably practicable, achieve risk control by means other than team lifting.

In order to ensure hazardous manual tasks in the workplace are appropriately managed, the following steps as prescribed in the Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice [Safe Work Australia December 2011] must be followed.

1.     Identify hazardous manual tasks by:

  • Consultation with workers
  • Review of information such as workplace injuries/incidents, inspection reports, ergonomic self-assessment checklists and claims data
  • Identifying trends or common problems
  • Direct observation

Hazardous manual tasks and ergonomics potential hazards will need to be considered when there are:

  • Any changes that have resulted in new manual tasks or change in existing tasks
  • Tasks involving tools, machinery or equipment that do not work properly or are difficult to use
  • The introduction of new or modified plant/tools/equipment
  • Redesign, refurbishments or renovation of the work premises and/or environment
  • Changes to work practices and/or systems of work

2.     Assessment of Risks

When assessing risks, by following the Risk Management Process for Manual Tasks from the Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice [Safe Work Australia December 2011], the PCBU will ensure appropriate risk factors and controls are considered.

During the risk assessment stage, managers in consultation with workers must:

  • Evaluate the likelihood and severity/risk of injuries/illnesses occurring in relation to the hazard
  • Review available health and safety information relevant to the hazard
  • Consider the following risk factors:

a)    Repetitive movement – as a general guideline, ‘repetitive’ means a movement or force which is performed more than twice a minute.

b)    Sustained or awkward posture – as a general guideline, ‘sustained’ means a posture or force which is held for more than 30 seconds at a time.

c)    Duration of the task – as a general guideline, a task of long duration is one which is done for more than a total of 2 hours over a whole shift or continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time.

d)    Forces (especially high or sudden forces) exerted by a worker and on the worker e.g. restraining a person.

e)    Exposure to vibration e.g. frequent or prolonged use of hand powered tools

  • The source of the risk must also be considered. The main sources of risk are the:

a)    Work area design and layout e.g. height or work benches

b)    Nature, size, weight or number of things handled in performing the manual task

c)    Systems of work e.g. pace and flow or work across the shift

d)    Environment where the manual task is performed e.g. working in areas where the floor may be slippery

3.     Control of Risk

In the first instance, if reasonably practicable, the manual task should be eliminated.  If the task cannot be eliminated, the risk should be minimised as far as practicable by:

  • Substitution e.g. replace heavy items with those that are lighter
  • Isolation e.g. remove worker from vibrating machine by using independent seating
  • Engineering e.g. use mechanical aids

When controlling hazardous manual tasks/ergonomic risks, the following should be considered:

a)    Changing design or layout of work areas

  • Workstation design e.g. adjustable work surfaces
  • Working height e.g. tasks involving keyboard use should be performed at just below elbow height
  • Working position e.g. avoiding prolonged sitting or standing during task
  • Work space e.g. enough space for workers to be able to manoeuvre equipment safely.

b)    Changing nature, size, weight or number of items handled

  • Handling loads e.g. reducing the size of containers handled

c)    Using mechanical aids

Mechanical aids should be:

  • Designed to suit the load and the work being performed
  • As light as possible
  • Easy to use
  • Adjustable
  • Located close to work area
  • Be appropriately maintained
  • Introduced with appropriate instruction and training

When purchasing equipment to eliminate or minimise hazardous manual tasks, consideration must be given to the design, handling, delivery, storage and vibration specifications as they can all have an impact on the manual/ergonomic task performed.

d)    Handling of people

When people are being handled, the controls selected and applied should take into account all of the sources of risks. Controls may include the following:

  • No worker should fully lift a person (other than a small infant) unaided i.e. without assistance from equipment, assistive devices or another worker
  • A mobility risk assessment: Maximise the person’s ability to assist in the move through the use of appropriate advice, mechanical and/or assistive devices.
  • Moving the person to a place that does not constrain the movement of the worker performing the task, for example, using a shower trolley to bathe a patient
  • Where handling is required, assessing the needs of the task including the specific type of mechanical aids and personnel needed and planning it in a manner that avoids the hazardous manual task
  • Where the use of a hoist requires two or more people provide adequate supervision and resources to eliminate the risk of workers being under time pressure and attempting the task on their own
  • Planning how to handle a person attached to medical or other equipment
  • Ensuring the location and storage of mechanical aids and assistive devices allows easy access
  • Providing training for the safe use of mechanical aids and assistive devices.

e)    Changing the system of work

  • Workload and pace of work e.g. minimise double handling
  • Task designs e.g. take into account range of human capabilities such as age, height and weight
  • Resources and support e.g. ensure there is enough equipment which is accessible to workers

f)     Changing work environment

  • Vibration (whole body and hand/arm) e.g. select appropriate tools to eliminate the need for vibrating equipment
  • Cold, heat, humidity and windy conditions e.g. providing fans or air conditioning
  • Lighting e.g. increase/decrease number of lights

Administrative controls do not directly address the risk factors for hazardous manual tasks, or the source of those risk factors.  This type of control is used to attempt to reduce exposure to the risk. Examples include:

  • Job rotation
  • Rest breaks
  • Team handling
  • Information, instruction and training – Training in lifting techniques must not be used as the primary means to control the risks associated with hazardous manual tasks. Ideally workers should participate in competency based hazardous manual tasks and Ergonomic theory and (practical) training relevant to their role.  Training should occur at orientation and reinforced annually.

4.     Review of Risk control Measures by:

  • Consultation with workers on effectiveness of control
  • Evaluating/assessing changes in incidents/accidents/injuries and associated costs
  • Consultation and discussions with WHS professionals
  • Evaluations of effectiveness of information, instruction, supervision and training

Our training satisfies all State WHS Act/Regulation duty of care requirements and State WorkCover Authority Audits. It is ideal for refresher training for health care and aged care workers as well general awareness training for office and warehouse workers.

You are encouraged to visit the Safe Work Australia website and download the Code of Practice for further guidance.

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