Up to 12.3 million working days are lost every year due to back pain related injuries. Many of these injuries are caused by a simple failure to follow correct manual handling techniques.
Manual handling is a day to day occurrence in schools and encompasses everything from lifting and supporting a load through to transporting the load by pushing it, pulling it, carrying it or moving it in any other way that requires physical labour.
Many manual handling injuries are cumulative, caused by carrying out tasks repeatedly over time rather than being caused by a single incident. Common injuries range from pulling a muscle to damaging tissue, trapping a nerve, crushing vertebrae or causing a hernia. Most injuries are to the back, but hands, arms and feet are also vulnerable to fractures and lacerations.
Manual handling should be avoided as far as practicable by use of lifting aids such as trolleys however, where manual handling is unavoidable the following 10 rules should be followed:
- Train employees in correct lifting and handling techniques. Either face to face training or e-learning (via Safety Cloud) should be completed by any member of staff before engaging in lifting and handling. Ideally, this should be refreshed every 2 years.
- Plan any lift and check the route that you will need to take. Where possible, remove any items which could cause a slip or trip hazard or which would require lifting of the product high over obstructions, and ensure the route is well-lit.
- Get a good grip. Decide beforehand how to hold the object and don’t change your grip on the load unless its weight is supported.
- Get help. Some bulky, unwieldy or heavy items may require a 2 man lift, either to place onto a trolley or to carry over short distances. Employees should not struggle on their own; instead, they should seek assistance from another member of staff.
- Rest or rotate tasks. Avoid becoming overtired; frequent lifting, lowering and moving is demanding work and can cause stress to the muscles and joints. Take short rests regularly and do other tasks between moving items if you can.
- Try to avoid lifting from floor level or lifting above shoulder height, especially heavy loads. Lifting below knee height or above shoulder height puts increased strain on the spine. Holding the load close to the body reduces the stress on the lower back.
- Consider how you can minimise carrying distances. Use items such as trolleys in preference to manual handling.
- Assess the weight to be carried and consider whether the load can be broken down to smaller, lighter components.
- Don’t block your vision by carrying something that is too big. Use a mechanical aid or get help with the lift if it is needed.
- Wear suitable clothing. Footwear should provide support and protection, be stable and have non-slip soles. Your clothes should allow you to move freely but not be so loose that they could snag or get in the way.