MATERIALS HANDLING: Take 5 Steps to Protect Workers When Handling Materials Manually

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Safe Lifting Techniques—It’s Not Just Lift with Your Legs

For years, the rule of thumb has been “lift with your legs” and not your back. But despite training workers on this approach, the number of back injuries didn’t decrease. According to information from Alberta, researchers began to question this method of lifting, noting that most people use a semi-squatting posture, with both the back and knees slightly bent. So they now advocate a so-called “freestyle technique” that protects workers as long as they follow these basic principles:

Keep the natural curve in the lower back. When standing straight, the lower back naturally curves to create a slight hollow. Always try to maintain this curve when lifting, lowering or moving objects. The spine and back are their most stable in this position.

Contract the abdominal muscles. By contracting the abdominal muscles when lifting, lowering or moving materials, you improve the spine’s stability. Sometimes described as “bracing,” tightening the abs even slightly reduces the likelihood of injury.

Avoid twisting. Twisting the back can make it less stable, increasing the likelihood of injury. Bracing helps reduce any tendency to twist.

Hold materials close. Keep the materials as close to the belly button and body as possible. Doing so reduces the strain on muscles in the back and trunk. If necessary, protective clothing such as leather aprons should be used so that sharp, dirty, hot or cold objects can be held as close to the body as possible. For a video on preventing back injuries and safety talks on safe lifting, go to Safety Smart.

For a video on preventing back injuries and safety talks on safe lifting, go to Safety Smart. Not a subscriber? Sign up for a free trial. And go to Safety Smart S.A.F.E. System to buy a system on Lifting Safety and Back Injuries, which includes safety posters, a safety meeting outline, table tents, safety cards for workers and quizzes.

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Many workers must move or otherwise handle various materials as part of their every day duties. But while lifting, carrying or moving materials, workers are at risk of getting hurt—especially when they do so by hand. For example, lifting heavy objects manually can cause musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), such as back strains and shoulder sprains. As a result, the OHS regulations have requirements to protect workers from such injuries. We’ll tell you the steps to take to comply with the manual materials handling requirements and keep your workers healthy and safe.

MATERIALS HANDLING TOOLS: Go to the Insider’s online partner site, www.OHSInsider.com, to download an ergonomics risk factor checklist and forms for investigating injuries to the neck, shoulder and upper back and hips, knees and feet.

Defining Our Terms

This article discusses the general requirements for manually handling materials and doesn’t address requirements for specific kinds of materials or workplaces, such as patient handling requirements for healthcare facilities.

5 STEPS FOR PROTECTING WORKERS

The OHS laws generally require employers to take precautions to protect workers from getting injured when handling materials in the workplace. These requirements usually cover manual handling, mechanical handling and storage of materials. This article focuses on the manual handling of material. (For more information on the other aspects of materials handling, see “Materials Handling: How to Protect Workers Moving or Storing Materials,” 06/11, p. 1.) Some OHS regulations also have specific requirements to protect workers from developing MSIs when performing any kind of task, including manually handling materials. And several jurisdictions have both kinds of requirements.

Taking the following steps should ensure that you comply with the requirements that apply to manual materials handling and adequately protect workers from injury:

Step #1: Determine if Materials Can Be Moved Mechanically

Moving materials mechanically, such as with a forklift, dolly, conveyor or hand truck, is generally safer for workers. As a result, the preference under the OHS laws is generally to move materials mechanically unless it’s not “reasonably practicable” to do so. For example, under Alberta’s OHS Code 2009, employers must provide, where reasonably practicable, appropriate equipment for lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, handling or transporting heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 208(1)]. (For more information on making this kind of determination, see “Compliance Options: When Are Safety Measures Not Required Because They’re ‘Impracticable’?” 12/08, p. 1.)

So your first step is to determine if workers can move the materials mechanically. In many cases, mechanical moving will be possible and thus that’s what workers should do. But in some cases it won’t. For example, if the materials must be moved from or into a tight space that, say, a hand truck wouldn’t be able to get into, workers may have to manually move such materials. If you determine that workers can move materials mechanically, you must provide the appropriate equipment and ensure that workers are trained in its safe use.

Step #2: Assess Risks of Moving Materials Manually

If you determine that it’s not reasonably practicable for workers to move certain materials mechanically, then you must assess the risks of moving such materials manually. There are many factors you should consider in making this risk assessment. For example, according to a fact sheet from Nova Scotia, many workplace conditions and personal characteristics act together to determine the risk of injury when lifting materials, including:

  • The horizontal distance between the front of the worker and the object being lifted—at the beginning and end of the lift;
  • The vertical heights at which the lift starts and ends;
  • Whether the worker has to twist his body to perform the lift;
  • Characteristics of the object, such as size, shape, texture and whether it has handles or other easy-to-grasp features;
  • How many times per hour and/or per day the lifts are performed;
  • The total length of time the lifting task is performed per shift/day; and
  • The strength, stamina, health and skill of the worker doing the lifting.
  • In addition, you should consider:
  • The speed with which materials must be moved, such as when the materials must be placed on a moving conveyor belt or assembly line;
  • The distance and terrain over which they’ll be moved; and
  • Whether the materials have a changing centre of gravity, such as a container of fluid.

Note that oddly shaped items may pose more of a risk to workers than heavier, box-shaped items because, for example, workers may have to hold their arms in an awkward position to move unusual items. In addition, moving a heavy item once or twice a shift may pose less risk than moving a lighter item, say, 10 times a shift.

MATERIALS HANDLING TOOLS: Go to the Insider’s online partner site, www.OHSInsider.com, to download an ergonomics risk factor checklist and forms for investigating injuries to the neck, shoulder and upper back and hips, knees and feet.

Step #3: Adapt Materials, if Possible

If you determine that manually moving the materials does pose safety risks to workers, try to adapt the materials to eliminate or reduce that risk. Examples of ways you can do so include:

  • Reducing the weight of the materials by dividing it into several smaller loads;
  • Placing the materials into smaller, more numerous containers; and
  • Reducing the distance the materials must be moved.

Step #4: Develop Safe Methods for Moving Materials

Adapting the materials may not eliminate the safety hazards to workers. In that case, you’ll need to develop safe methods for lifting and moving these materials. For example, for materials that are particularly heavy and which can’t be lightened, require at least two workers to always move them. In addition, you can provide and require workers to use handholds for certain materials. And develop a safe lifting technique that all workers should use.  (See the box on the sidebar for some safe lifting principles.) Lastly, make sure you put these safe work practices in writing.

Step #5: Train Workers on Safe Moving Methods

The OHS laws require employers to provide training on various aspects of materials handling, including manual handling of materials, and on MSIs, such as identification of the factors that could lead to an MSI. (Go to the Ergonomics Compliance Centre for more information on complying with OHS requirements that relate to MSIs.) This training should be included in your company’s general materials handling program and should cover, at a minimum:

  • Manual materials handling hazards, including the risks of developing MSIs;
  • MSIs, including what they are, early signs and symptoms and how to avoid them; and
  • Safe work procedures, including the safe work practices for the manual lifting and moving of materials.

As with all safety training, document the manual materials handling training provided to workers and take steps to verify that this training was effective, such as by quizzing workers or making them demonstrate the safe lifting techniques you’ve taught them. For example, have workers show the proper technique for lifting a box weighing 20 kg.

BOTTOM LINE

According to CCOHS, manual materials handling is the most common cause of occupational fatigue and low back pain. About three of every four Canadians whose job includes manually handling of materials suffer pain due to back injury at some time, which account for about one third of all lost work and more than one third of all workers’ comp costs. And each year several thousand Canadian workers are permanently disabled by back injuries. So it’s important for your to take the above steps to protect your workers from back and other injuries when moving materials by hand.

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KNOW THE LAWS OF YOUR PROVINCE

Here are the general manual materials handling requirements in each jurisdiction’s OHS regulations:

RELEVANT OHS LAW

FED 1)Where, because of the weight, size, shape, toxicity or other characteristic of materials, goods or things, the manual handling of materials, goods or things may be hazardous to a worker’s health or safety, the employer must issue instructions that the materials, goods or things shall, where reasonably practicable, not be handled manually[Sec. 14.46(1)].

2)For purposes of the above, the employer must take into account the frequency and duration of manual lifting and the distances and terrain over which an object is to be manually lifted or carried in deciding whether the manual handling of the materials, goods or things may be hazardous to a worker’s health or safety [Sec. 14.46(2)].

3) No employer shall require a worker who’s an office worker and whose primary tasks don’t include manual lifting or carrying to manually lift or carry materials, goods or things in excess of 23 kg [Sec. 14.47].

4) When a worker is required manually to lift or carry loads weighing in excess of 10 kg, the employer must instruct and train him in:

a) a safe method of lifting and carrying the loads that will minimize the stress on the body; and

b) a work procedure appropriate to his physical condition and the conditions of the workplace [Sec. 14.48].

5) When a worker is required manually to lift or carry loads weighing in excess of 45 kg, the employer must give him instructions as discussed above that are:

a) set out in writing;

b) readily available to the worker; and

c) kept by the employer for a period of two years after they cease to apply [Sec. 14.49].

OHS Regs.
AB 1) An employer must provide, where reasonably practicable, appropriate equipment for lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, handling or transporting heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 208(1)].

2) If the provided equipment isn’t reasonably practicable in a particular circumstance or for a particular heavy or awkward load, the employer must take all practicable means to:

a) adapt the load to facilitate lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, handling or transporting the load without injuring workers; or

b) otherwise minimize the manual handling required to move the load [Sec. 209].

3) Before a worker manually lifts, lowers, pushes, pulls, carries, handles or transports a load that could injure him, the employer must perform a hazard assessment that considers:

a) the weight of the load;

b) the size of the load;

c) the shape of the load;

d) the number of times the load will be moved; and

e) the manner in which the load will be moved [Sec. 210(1)].

4)
If the required hazard assessment determines that there’s a potential for an MSI, the employer must ensure that all reasonably practicable measures are used to eliminate or reduce that potential in accordance with Sec. 9 [Sec. 210(3)].

OHS Code 2009
BC OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. But the ergonomics/MSI requirements [Secs. 4.46-4.53] would apply to such work to the extent that it poses the risk of MSIs to workers. OHS Reg.
MB OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. But the MSI requirements [Part 8] would apply to such work to the extent that it poses the risk of MSIs to workers. Workplace Safety and Health Reg.
NB 1) When the health or safety of a worker handling an object or material may be endangered, the employer must ensure that:

a) adequate and appropriate equipment is provided to the worker and is used by him for lifting and moving the object or material; and

b) the worker is instructed as to the appropriate method of lifting and moving objects and material [Sec. 52].

OHS Reg.
NL 1) An employer or contractor must ensure, where reasonably practicable, that suitable equipment is provided and used for the handling of heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 56(1)]; and

2)Where use of equipment isn’t reasonably practicable, an employer or contractor must take all practicable means to adapt heavy or awkward loads to facilitate lifting, holding or transporting by workers or to otherwise minimize the manual handling required [Sec. 56(2)].

OHS Regs. 2012
NT/NU OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. General Safety Regs.
NS 1)When the lifting or moving of a thing or person may be a hazard to the health or safety of a person at the workplace, the employer must ensure that:

a) adequate and appropriate equipment for the lifting and moving is provided; and

b) training and instruction as to the appropriate method of performing the lifting and moving is provided in accordance with the equipment manufacturer’s instructions or, where there are no such instructions, in accordance with adequate work methods and lifting and moving techniques [Sec. 26].

Occupational Safety General Regs.
ON Material, articles or things required to be lifted, carried or moved must be lifted, carried or moved in such a way and with such precautions and safeguards, including protective clothing, guards or other precautions as will ensure that the lifting, carrying or moving of the material, articles or things doesn’t endanger the safety of any worker [Sec. 45(a)]. Industrial Establishments Reg.
PE 1) The employer must ensure that:

a) where practicable, mechanical appliances are provided and used for lightening and carrying materials and articles [Sec. 43.8(a)]; and

b) workers assigned to handle material are instructed on how to lift and carry material on an individual basis, the overriding factor being the physical condition of each worker, including sex and age when relevant [Sec. 43.8 (b)].

OHS Regs.
QC 1) Workers assigned to the handling of loads or persons must be instructed in the proper manner of performing their work safely [Sec. 166]; and

2) When the manual moving of loads or persons compromises the worker’s safety, mechanical devices must be put at his disposal [Sec. 166].

Reg. on Occupational Health and Safety
SK 1)An employer or contractor must ensure, where reasonably practicable, that suitable equipment is provided and used for the handling of heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 78(1)].

2) Where the use of equipment isn’t reasonably practicable, an employer or contractor must take all practicable means to adapt heavy or awkward loads to facilitate lifting, holding or transporting by workers or to otherwise minimize the manual handling required [Sec. 78(2)].

3) An employer or contractor must ensure that no worker engages in the manual lifting, holding or transporting of a load that, by reason of its weight, size or shape, or by any combination of these or by reason of the frequency, speed or manner in which the load is lifted, held or transported, is likely to be injurious to the worker’s health or safety [Sec. 78(3)].

4) An employer or contractor must ensure that a worker who is to engage in the lifting, holding or transporting of loads receives appropriate training in safe methods of lifting, holding or carrying of loads [Sec. 78(4)].

OHS Regs.
YT 1)Mechanical appliances for lifting or carrying materials and objects that are too heavy or awkward for workers to lift must be provided and used [Sec. 8.03(1)].

2) Workers required to lift or carry objects must be trained to do the job safely [Sec. 8.03(2)].

OHS Regs.

Manual Materials Handling Resources

Fed: Employee Input on Potential Ergonomics-Related Hazards; General Guide for Identifying Ergonomics-Related Hazards; Guide on the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Injuries; Guide to Employee Education on Musculoskeletal Injuries

AB: OHS Code 2009 Explanation Guide to Part 14; Lifting and Your Back—Some Fresh Ideas; Lifting and Handling Loads, Part 2: Assessing Ergonomic Hazards; Lifting and Handling Loads, Part 3: Reducing Ergonomic Hazards

BC: Preventing Musculoskeletal Injury; Understanding the Risks of Musculoskeletal Injury

MB: Manual Materials Handling Bulletin

NB: Ergonomics Guidelines for Manual Handling

NL: Guidelines for the Prevention of Soft Tissue Injuries

NS: 6 Steps to an Ergonomics Mindset; Approaches to Improving Lifting Tasks; How Much is Safe to Lift?

ON: Musculoskeletal Disorders/Ergonomics; Safe Lifting Poster

SK: Musculoskeletal Injuries