A considerable amount of manual handling is an everyday occurrence at most farms in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.
Manual handling includes lifting, carrying, putting down, pushing, pulling, moving or supporting a load by hand or by using another bodily force. It is not just the weight of the load that can cause injury. The size, shape, available grip, the exact way you carry the load, where you have to carry it, and how often you have to do the task all play a part. Where manual handling tasks cannot be avoided, make sure that workers know how to use the correct lifting techniques and provide training to enable them to do this.
Working conditions are a very important element of safe manual handling. A golden rule is to allow plenty of time and do not rush. Allow people to work at their own pace where possible, allowing adequate rests or pauses during the work.
You should also check that floors and access routes are level, well lit, not slippery, unobstructed, and that there is enough space to move the load. The temperature should not be too high, to avoid the risk of heat stress when moving loads without mechanical assistance.
Make sure one person is in charge, giving clear, unhurried instructions. Provide PPE for hands and feet, and other protective clothing where necessary.
Avoid, Assess, Reduce
You are required by law to avoid all hazardous manual handling where reasonably practicable, to assess the risks from any hazardous manual handling where it cannot be avoided, and to take action to reduce those risks. Many workers suffer from a variety of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as a result of poor manual handling techniques, or through other tasks which involve repetitive movements, excessive force, unusual postures, or from badly organised working practices.
These can include muscle injuries, sprains or strains, back pain, sciatica, hernias, arthritis, or swelling of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder (‘work-related upper limb disorders’ or WRULDs). People may not fully recover from these, which will affect their ability to carry out any manual work in the future.
Always consider whether there is a reasonably practicable alternative to manual handling. You may be able to fully mechanise the task, using a conveyor, a pallet truck, an electric or hand-powered hoist or similar device. If you cannot avoid manual handling, assess the risks. Focus on the tasks with the greatest risks. Use HSE’s manual handling assessment charts (MAC tool)[m1] to help you identify problem areas, for example loads weighing over 25kg or which are difficult to grip or handle because of their size or shape, or which need frequent lifting or lowering, are difficult to manoeuvre or need to be lifted above shoulder height or from the floor.
If you cannot remove the risk completely, take steps to reduce it to an acceptable level. The use of materials handlers, forklift trucks, sack trucks, trolleys for bales, workshop cranes and drum cradles can all reduce the amount of effort involved and reduce the risk of injury. Workers should be trained to use these devices safely, change to smaller, lighter unit sizes, for example, smaller feed blocks or bags weighing under 25kg. If there are sharp edges, cover them with a protective layer. When handling liquid or flowing contents, fill smaller containers completely rather than partially filling larger containers, to stop the contents moving and thus changing the weight distribution.
Before lifting or handling, think carefully about where the load is going, whether handling aids are appropriate, and whether you need help with the load. Don’t lift or handle more than you can easily manage. There is a difference between what you can lift and what you can lift safely.
Keep the load close to your waist for as long as possible, with the heaviest part closest to your body. Adopt a stable position. Ensure a good hold on the load. Bend your back, hips and knees slightly. Don’t flex your back any further while lifting. Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways. Keep your shoulders level and facing in the same direction as your hips. Keep your head up while handling. Move smoothly. Put down the load, then adjust. If precise placement is necessary, it is better to put it down first and then slide it into place.
Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs)
If a worker suffers from pain, numbness or tingling in the hands, aching or shooting pains up the arms, difficulty in gripping, or swelling over a joint, they may be suffering from a WRULD. Types of work associated with these symptoms include working on grading lines, on inspection tables, on root harvesters, or processing poultry. To reduce the risks, consider measures such as changing the work area and providing adjustable seats and work tables at the right height; selecting tools with handles and ergonomic design features to suit the hand; allowing new workers to build up their work rate gradually; rotating jobs to allow for a variety of postures and activities; building short and frequent breaks into the job.
Encourage your employees to report any symptoms as soon as they occur, so that action can be taken to prevent any further injury.