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Whether it’s stacking shelves, moving furniture, or lifting boxes, manual handling is a fundamental aspect of many workplace activities, and adopting good handling techniques is crucial for putting a stop to workplace injuries and making your workplace safer.

In this blog post, we’re exploring what we really mean when we talk about ‘good handling techniques’, and how they fit into a broader framework of risk-reduction measures that work together to keep your team happy and thriving at work.

A Supplement to Risk Reduction

While a good handling technique is undoubtedly a can’t-do-without item on your health and safety checklist, it should be viewed as a complement to, not a replacement for, other risk-reduction steps. Health and safety initiatives like the provision of lifting aids and efforts to optimise the task, load, and working environment of a workplace are equally as essential. Techniques like rocking, pivoting, rolling, or sliding the load are also particularly recommended when traditional lifting methods might present heightened risks.

In real-world practice, the success of good handling techniques hinges on a combination of training and practical experience. These training programmes should meticulously replicate real-world conditions, emphasising the practical relevance of these techniques to everyday handling operations in the workplace.

Tailoring Techniques to Operations

How can we tailor lifting techniques to operations in each workplace?

Every workplace is different, with different tasks that make it tick and differing overall structures and needs; recognising that no universal approach suits all in lifting scenarios is the first step towards safer practice. Training in good handling techniques should be always be customised to the specific operation taking place. This training should start with simple examples and progressively cover more specialised handling operations as needed.

Here are some examples:

  • Risk Identification: Employees must successfully identify loads that might pose injury risks. An increase in size should prompt considerations of heightened weight and handling difficulty.
  • Assessing Load Contents: When the size of the item is less relevant than how full it is and the nature of these contents, e.g., a bin full of waste, employees should assess the load by looking inside it. Techniques such as rocking the load from side to side before attempting to lift it can also be beneficial.
  • Handling Unfamiliar Loads: Caution is essential when dealing with unfamiliar loads. For instance, drums that appear empty and containers that are closed should both undergo testing – for example, you might attempt to raise one end to see how it feels.
  • Gradual Force Application: Employees should apply force gradually when testing loads. Feeling excessive strain should prompt them to seek alternative, safer handling methods.

Essential Points for Basic Symmetrical Lifts

For basic two-handed symmetrical lifts – those using both hands in front of and close to the body without any twisting – several key points are vital:

  • Pre-Handling Planning: Thinking before handling or lifting involves planning the activity, considering the use of appropriate handling aids, and removing any obstructions that might get in your way. Resting the load mid-way through the lift on a table or bench can give you a chance to change your grip for better comfort and handling technique. This is something you might consider for a lift which involves a change of height or a bit of a distance.
  • Proximity to the Waist: Keeping the load as close to the waist for as long as possible during lifting is critical. The distance of the load from the spine at waist height significantly influences the overall load on the spine and back muscles.
  • Stable Positioning: Adopting a stable posture with feet apart and one leg in front of the other enhances stability. Your team should be prepared to move their feet during the lift to maintain a stable posture and prevent injuries to the feet or toes.
  • Secure Load Holding: Ensuring a good hold on the load involves hugging it as close as possible to the body rather than relying solely on the hand grip.
  • Moderate Flexion: You should start a lift with a slightly bent back, hips, and knees, as opposed to positioning yourself in a full squat, where you employ extreme flexion at both the hip and knee joints.
  • Avoiding Twisting and Leaning: Always aim to avoid twisting your back or leaning to one side, especially while your back is bent. Turning by moving the feet is superior to twisting and lifting simultaneously.
  • Maintaining Head Position: Keeping the head up and looking ahead, not down at the load, is crucial once the load is securely held.
  • Smooth Movement: Jerking or snatching the load should be avoided, as it can make it harder to maintain control and increase the risk of injury.
  • Lifting Manageable Loads: Employees should not lift or handle more than feels easily manageable. This will, of course, vary depending on the person. Recognising the distinction between what people can lift and what they can safely lift is key. Seeking advice or assistance if in doubt is a prudent approach.
  • Positioning Considerations: If precise positioning of the load is necessary, putting it down first and then sliding it into the desired position is recommended.

At OFI, we provide a wide array of manual handling courses to help you create a safe work environment and ensure your staff’s well-being. Find out more about how we can help you here.

In Summary

Mastering good handling techniques is a daily commitment that demands a synthesis of training, practice, and consideration of each lifting scenario on a case-by-case basis. By integrating these techniques into everyday workplace operations, employees can contribute significantly towards the development of a safer, more secure working environment. This guide serves as a foundation for creating awareness and promoting the adoption of effective good handling practices across any and every industry that needs them.