The risk of manual handling injuries

Manual handling injuries are some of the most common you can suffer as an employee.

Among the most frustrating aspects of these injuries is that although they can be some of the most painful, they can also frequently be prevented.

Most likely to be injured

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work points out that all workers face some risk of a manual handling injury, but some are more exposed to heavy loads, including those in construction, agriculture and hospitality.

This sort of injury in the workplace typically occurs when a load is too big or heavy for safe handling. There are some individual factors that can increase the risk, though. For example, those in their first year of employment are more likely to suffer from lower back pain, says the European Agency.

Meanwhile, those who smoke are also more likely to experience this sort of pain, as are workers who have previously suffered from back pain. Physical size and strength also has an impact on the likelihood of an injury when lifting or carrying a load.

Reducing your risk

There are a number of actions you can take to reduce your chances of suffering a manual handling injury. This includes wearing the right personal protective equipment, keeping yourself fit and strong, and using the correct technique.

However, it’s your employer whom the onus is really on to ensure these accidents are kept to a minimum.

They will need to make sure you have the right training, the appropriate level of protection and the necessary equipment to prevent manual handling injuries. They should also carry out the required risk assessments to establish whether manual handling can be avoided – and if this is not possible, how it can be performed safer.

Employers must also take into account the capability of the individual carrying out the manual handling. If the person required to perform the task doesn’t have the capability, it should be redesigned to avoid injury.

Economic impact

Most manual handling injuries fall into the category of musculoskeletal disorders. And some professionals are more at risk of these conditions. Agriculture, forestry and fishing, as well as construction and human health and social work were the industries that saw the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders among employees.

In 2019/20, 480,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorders were reported – 212,000 of those affecting the neck and arms, and 176,000 affecting the back.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, handling, lifting or carrying caused the second highest number of injuries suffered in the workplace in 2019/20, at 19%.

They are responsible for comparatively long-lasting injuries. The HSE found the 24% of those who suffered a manual handling injury were off work for more than seven days. A total of 27% of all working days lost to ill health were caused by musculoskeletal disorders.

These statistics highlight the seriousness of these injuries, both to workers’ health and wellbeing and the organisations that employ them.

With so many working days lost – and the associated drop in productivity – it is vital that companies do all they can to ensure employees are protected and the risks associated manual handling are mitigated as far as possible.

Image copyright: