New research urges employers not to rely on predetermined manual material handling techniques, such as "straight back, bent knees". Instead, the research advocates a skills-based approach so that handlers can adapt to frequent and unpredictable changes in job demands.
Why Doesn't Training Based on Safe Handling Techniques Work, a literature review conducted by Quebec's Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), found that the content of training programs is "surprisingly uniform", with a consistent emphasis on the straight back, bent knees lifting technique. While this technique can help prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), the researchers suggest that complementing the training with prevention skills specific to the handler's job would be more effective - a timely message given that October is Global Ergonomics Month. Even more importantly, a 3-month Ministry of Labour MSD inspection initiative begins October 1.
WSPS Ergonomics Specialist Don Patten supports these findings. "We take a similar approach", he says. "In our training programs and consultations, we educate people on material handling techniques that help them understand and assess hazards associated with material handling - the load, the task, and the environment in which the task is being performed. Any of these factors can create hazards that lead to injuries and/or property damage."
Don offers seven suggestions on how managers and supervisors can mitigate risk and empower workers to protect themselves.
What you can do to mitigate the risk
- Design manual handling tasks so that they are within the workers' capabilities. Providing mechanical handling devices or aids can often ease demands on workers.
- Redesign how problematic tasks are performed. Where possible, eliminate the need for workers to perform these tasks.
- Mentally review the day's assignments with possible hazards in mind. Could workers find themselves in risky situations they may not be able to control, such as an awkward alignment to lift a heavy load. "We don't want anyone lifting with a twisted posture", says Don.
- Ask non-compliant workers why they are not following recommended lifting practices. "Workers often make modifications because something is not right."
How you can help workers manage the risk
- Train workers on material handling hazards and solutions. "Knowing what factors could increase the possibility of discomfort or injury is the first step in managing risk."
- Ensure workers have what they need to apply the training. "If workers learn new skills and can't apply them because they don't have the right tools or the task is poorly designed, then the training won't work."
- Encourage workers to assess every new situation before they start to lift. A skills-based approach teaches workers to break the lift down into components, such as posture, foot positioning, and body positioning.
How WSPS can help
- Listen to a recorded WSPS webinar on the Ministry of Labour's inspection initiative - the webinar is part of the MSDs and Respiratory Hazards Safety Tool Kit that you can download free of charge.
- Check out WSPS' extensive online library of manual material handling resources, including free downloads, onsite and classroom training, and eCourses.
- Invite a WSPS ergonomist to conduct a walk-through. We can help you identify trouble spots and recommend ways to reduce risk. Our ergonomists can also:
- conduct formal assessments to identify hazards and provide targeted solutions,
- train individuals or teams to identify hazards and explore solutions,
- develop training that reflects actual workplace conditions and helps workers apply new techniques to reduce risk.
- Attend "Ergonomics Explained", a session led by Don Patten at WSPS' Southwestern Ontario Health & Safety Conference in Kitchener on October 23.
- Read the IRSST literature review, Why Doesn't Training Based on Safe Handling Techniques Work?