Hazardous manual tasks
Hazardous manual tasks can be harmful to workers’ health and safety. Workplaces must put in place measures to protect workers from injuries and diseases.
Manual tasks, also known as manual handling, involve using your body to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, or otherwise move, hold, or restrain any person, animal, or thing. Manual tasks cover a wide range of activities, including:
- pushing and pulling
- lifting and lowering
- carrying and restraining.
Examples of manual tasks include:
- stacking shelves
- working on a conveyor line
- entering data into a computer.
What are hazardous manual tasks?
Not all manual tasks are hazardous. A manual task becomes hazardous when one or more of the following risk factors are present:
- repetitive or sustained force
- high or sudden force
- repetitive movement
- sustained or awkward posture
The effects of hazardous manual tasks on health
Hazardous manual tasks are one of the main causes of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in NSW.
MSDs include a wide range of injuries and diseases of the human body. Common examples include:
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- muscle / tendon strain
- rotator cuff injuries
- ruptured or herniated discs in the spine.
Please note, hazardous manual tasks are not the only cause of MSDs.
How to comply with work health and safety laws
Employers and/or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the health and safety risks of an MSD associated with a hazardous manual task.
To manage risk, an employer/PCBU must:
- identify hazards that could give rise to the risk
- eliminate the risk, so far as is reasonably practicable
- if not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, minimise the risk by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.
- maintain the control measure so that it remains effective
- review risk control measures.
Read the hazardous manual tasks code of practice (PDF, 1499.23 KB). This document provides practical guidance on how to meet your legal obligations.
The best way to manage the risks associated with a hazardous manual task is to talk to your workers and follow a risk management process.
Follow the steps below and use the risk management process for manual tasks (PDF, 44.27 KB) flowchart to check that your process is consistent with the code of practice.
Consult your workers
You must consult with your workers who are affected, or likely to be affected, by the hazardous manual task.
If your workers have a health and safety representative, you must also consult with them.
This is a requirement under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 – Section 70.
Hazards that arise from manual tasks generally involve interaction between a worker and:
- the work tasks and how they are performed
- the tools, equipment and objects handled
- the physical work environment
- the systems of work (including psychosocial factors)
Your workers should be the key source of information on the demands of their job. Conduct a discomfort survey and ask them:
- What makes you sore at work?
- When do you feel discomfort?
- What jobs do you avoid doing?
Those businesses that actively consult with their workers have much better safety outcomes than those who do not.
Observe manual tasks
Identify if any hazardous manual task risk factors are present. This may include:
- forceful exertions such as pushing, pulling, lifting and gripping,
- awkward postures such as bending, reaching and twisting,
- vibrations to the hands, arm or body
- repetitive movement
Review available information
You may be able to identify hazardous manual tasks that cause harm by reviewing:
- discomfort surveys
- records of workplace injuries and incidents
- inspection reports.
Look for trends
You may be able to identify trends or common problems from the data and information you collect. These trends can be helpful in determining what hazardous manual tasks should be addressed as a priority. For example, trends may reveal that certain manual tasks involve multiple risk factors, which can increase the risk of a worker getting injured. You may also see that some risk factors are more common in certain tasks.
A risk assessment involves examining the risk factors of the hazardous manual task in more detail.
You should carry out a risk assessment for any manual tasks that you have identified as being hazardous, unless the risk is well known, and you know how to control it.
A risk assessment can help you determine:which postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk
- where during the task they pose a risk
- why they are occurring
- what needs to be fixed.
Question 1: What does the task involve?
Does the task involve any of the following:
- repetitive movement
- sustained or awkward postures
- repetitive or sustained forces.
Repetitive means that a movement or force is performed more than twice a minute.
Sustained posture is where part of or the whole body is kept in the same position for a prolonged period – more than 30 seconds at a time.
Awkward posture is where any part of the body is in an uncomfortable or unnatural position, such as:
- postures that are unbalanced or asymmetrical
- postures that require extreme joint angles or bending and twisting.
Question 2: Does the task involve high or sudden force?
Force is the amount of muscular effort required to perform a movement. It also involves an attempt to perform, resist, or change a movement.
Forceful muscular exertions can overload muscles, tendons, joints, and discs. These exertions lead to MSDs.
High force is exerted when large loads, relative to the body part doing the activity, are placed on muscles and other tissues.
An indicator of a high force is when a worker:
- describes a task as physically demanding
- needs help to do it
- requires a stronger person or two people to do the task, or
- requires two hands for a task that is normally one-handed.
Sudden force occurs when there is a rapid increase or decrease in muscular effort. Examples of sudden force include jarring, jerky or unexpected movements.
It is particularly hazardous because the body must suddenly adapt to the changing force. Tasks which include sudden force typically generate high force as well.
Question 3: Does the task involve vibration?
Prolonged exposure to whole body or hand arm vibration increases the risk of MSDs and other health problems.
The degree of risk increases as the duration of exposure increases and when the amplitude of vibration is high.
Examples of tasks involving vibration include the use of hand powered tools or operating mobile plant.
Did you answer 'yes' to the previous questions?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the previous questions, the task involves a risk of MSD.
It is important to note that a task may involve more than one risk factor. Where a number of risk factors are present and interact, the risk of an MSD developing increases significantly. The hazardous manual tasks code of practice (PDF, 1499.23 KB) provides further guidance about assessing risks.
Use the interactive risk management worksheet (PDF, 1419.5 KB) to record, assess and control the tasks in your workplace that are hazardous.
The WHS Regulation 2017 states that an employer/PCBU must consider relevant matters and follow the hierarchy of control when choosing a control measure to implement.
Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. This involves eliminating the hazardous manual task and its associated risk.
If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then you must minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
Prior to choosing and implementing any control measures, you must:
- Identify the source(s) of risk and consider relevant matters as per Clause 60 (2) of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017:
- workplace environmental conditions
- the design of the work area
- the layout of the workplace
- the systems of work used
- the nature, size, weight or number of persons, animals or things involved in carrying out the hazardous manual task.
- start at the top of the hierarchy of control.
- talk with workers to identify appropriate controls.
- enable workers to trial controls and give their feedback before decisions are made to make them permanent.
- communicate the reasons for the change to workers and others.
- ensure that any equipment used in the manual task is properly maintained.
- provide training and supervision to ensure workers can competently implement the risk controls.
Training should include information about manual tasks risk management, specific manual tasks risks and how to control them.
Providing ‘how to lift’ training is not an effective way to protect workers from harm. It is not a prescribed requirement of the NSW WHS legislation.
Examples of control measures following the hierarchy of controls:
- Automate hazardous manual tasks, for example using robotics.
- Deliver goods directly to the point of use to eliminate manual handling.
- Replace heavy items with those that are lighter, smaller and/or easier to handle.
- Replace hand tools with power to reduce the level of force required to do the task.
- Isolate vibrating machinery from the user e.g., by providing fully independent seating on mobile plant.
- Use mechanical lifting aids.
- Provide workstations that are height adjustable.
- Rotate workers between different tasks.
- Arrange workflows to avoid peak physical and mental demands towards the end of a shift.
Personal protective equipment
- Heat resistant gloves for handling hot items.
- Shock absorbent shoes for working on hard concrete floors.
Control measures must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised to make sure they work as planned.
This will help maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
You should review control measures after an incident or near/miss situation:
- when the control measure is no longer effective
- before a change is made that is likely to give rise to a new or different risk
- if a new hazard is identified
- if consultation indicates a review is necessary
- if a health and safety representative requests a review.
Designers, manufacturers, suppliers, and importers
You have obligations under the WHS Regulation 2017. See clause 61.
You must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that any structure or plant are designed to eliminate the need for a hazardous manual task to be carried out in connection with them.
Design of a workplace
- potential demolition.
- nursing homes
- distribution centres.
Design of plant
Tools and resources for managing hazardous manual tasks
This video provides simple, clear advice on how to reduce sprains and strains at your workplace.
The hazardous manual tasks code of practice (PDF, 1499.23 KB) provides practical guidance on how to manage MSD risks arising from hazardous manual tasks. This code outlines the law, the risk management process, and provides examples on how to control risks through safe work design.
The risk management process for manual tasks (PDF, 44.27 KB) is a flowchart that outlines how to identify, assess, control, and review hazardous manual tasks. Use it to check if your risk management process is consistent with the code of practice.
The systems self-assessment tool (PDF, 263.07 KB) will help you determine how effective your system is for managing hazardous manual tasks, and to identify opportunities for improvement.
The MSD toolbox talk (PDF, 104.86 KB) helps a supervisor, manager or safety professional consult with workers about preventing MSDs in the workplace.
Use the interactive risk management worksheet (PDF, 1419.5 KB) to record and document the tasks in your workplace that are hazardous.
Use the checklist in the training fact sheet (PDF, 138.3 KB) to help ensure workers receive appropriate training on hazardous manual tasks.
Participate Ergonomics for Manual tasks (PErforM) is a simple manual tasks program based on an internationally recommended approach for reducing MSDs. SafeWork NSW regularly runs free online seminars on how to implement PErforM, called ‘Manual Handling Safety @ Work – Approaches to prevent injury’. Visit the events calendar for upcoming seminars.
Visit the health care and social assistance section for more resources specific to aged care, hospitals, disability support, and early childhood education and care.
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