What is material handling?
Manual material handling is the lifting, carrying or moving of materials, articles or things. Mechanical materials handling is the movement of materials, articles or things by such means as lift trucks, conveyors, or cranes and hoists.
One of the more frequent, higher risk outcomes of manual material handling is musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Results from the 2010 Ministry of Labour (MOL) blitz on MSDs found that the most common MSD orders issued were due to obstructions on floors interfering with safe movement of materials; unsafe material lifting, carrying and moving; unsafe storage of material and lack of examination of lifting devices.
MSDs have become an important workplace health and safety issue. They account for:
- 44% of all lost-time claims
- 41% of all lost-time injury claim costs
- 913,000 days lost
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims totaling $112 million
Recent MOL blitzes related to mechanical equipment showed deficiencies like:
- Improperly securing vehicles against accidental movement, tipping or falling
- Unsafe loading and unloading procedures
- Wheel chocking not used
- Work surface hazards
- Pinch point hazards
Materials handling operations are carried out in most workplaces either with the use of physical might only, or where heavier or awkward materials are handled using either motorized or non-motorized lifting equipment. Each handling task poses unique demands on the worker. However, workplaces can help workers to perform these tasks safely and easily by implementing and upholding proper policies and procedures.
What the law says
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) gives the Government of Ontario broad powers to make regulations and sets out general principles and duties for the workplace parties. The regulations set out in detail how these duties are to be carried out. Many regulations have been made under the Act. For example, there are four separate safety regulations that apply to industrial establishments, construction sites, mines and health care facilities.
Employers, supervisors, owners and constructors, among others, have an obligation to know and comply with the regulations that apply to their workplaces. For the specifics on the regulations that cover your workplace, contact your health and safety provider.
How could having a material handling program help your business?
Hazards associated with material handling, either by manual or mechanical means, need to be assessed by considering the load, the task, the operator and the environment in which the task is performed. A disruption to any of these factors can create hazards that result in injuries and/or damage to equipment and facilities, which could ultimately result in significant increased cost and downtime for your business.
What you can do?
Evaluate the risk factors associated with material handling and implement control measures to eliminate or reduce the potential for injuries and/or damage to equipment and facilities.
The best control measure is to eliminate the need for workers to perform manual handling tasks.
Since this is not always possible, design manual handling tasks so that they are within the workers' capabilities. Considerations include the load itself, the design of the workstation and work practices. Providing mechanical handling devices or aids can often eliminate the task itself or ease the demands on the worker.