At some point, 8 in 10 of us will experience back pain and figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report that poor manual handling is responsible for 30% of all workplace injuries. All of us should undergo manual handling training as most of us will be required at some point to do some form of lifting. All “manual handling” needs to be done properly. An awkward sideways or sudden movement, regular or repetitive tasks – they could all cause back strain. Your back is a wonderful piece of technology, but also a vulnerable one and it needs to be taken good care of.
Learning good manual handling technique is not difficult, it’s a matter of thinking about any lifting or carrying task and ensuring that any difficulties have been taken into consideration BEFORE starting it. Always test the weight, always consider the route: are there stairs, doors to be opened, is the lighting sufficient, is there somewhere to put it down? These are all examples; there are many more factors that should be considered.
Five years ago, the HSE launched “Better Backs”; a major initiative which they hoped would encourage more people to undertake manual handling training and thus reduce the number of back injuries sustained at work. While the number of such injuries has been reduced in the intervening period, poor manual handling remains a serious problem.
Those working in certain industries are particularly at risk. Recycling, land transport, sewage and refuse disposal, and furniture, food and beverage production account for the largest number of such injuries. The HSE statistics also break down the manual handling injuries into types, for example over the last five years 25% of injuries were caused when lifting or putting down loads, 16% when pushing or pulling loads and 11% were sprains and strains from body movement.
Good manual handling training should include good explanations of ALL factors which need to be taken into consideration when preparing for a lift and should clearly show how to lift properly. Explaining how the back works gives great background and clarifies what exactly is happening when the back is mistreated and makes SENSE of the training. Using various forms of communication (e.g. video, animation, illustration, engaging language) holds the attention and ensures better retention of knowledge. Regular interactivity ensures knowledge is more likely to be retained.
A toddler picking up a box from the floor will almost invariably use naturally good manual handling technique – bending at the knees rather than from the back – perhaps because their centre of gravity is low, but for whatever reason over the years that good technique is lost and needs to be re-learnt. Good preparation and learning a few simple steps to lift and carry is a great step in helping to avoid future back pain.
The author works for the Interactive Health and Safety Company, who produce a series of highly regarded Health and Safety training programmes, including one for Manual Handling training.