What is the difference between manual handling and hazardous manual handling?
Manual handling is any activity requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower,
push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any animate or inanimate object.
A hazardous manual task, as defined in the WHS Regulations, means a task that requires a
person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal
or thing involving:
• Repetitive or sustained movements,
• Postures or forces involving long duration.
• High or sudden force.
• Hand-arm or whole-body vibration.
Not all manual handling is hazardous. Often a working person can have a hard day at work,
go home tired but then wake up the next morning fitter and stronger than the morning before.
This occurs when the worker has used correct manual handling techniques, is in a safe work
environment and where workloads are managed by well-informed safety professionals.
Here the objective is to create workers who are “athletes in industry.” This is in direct
contrast to workers who carry out their daily tasks with no thought of manual handling safety,
who end up getting injured and old before their time and cost industry billions of dollars in
direct and indirect costs each year.
What is a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)?
A musculoskeletal disorder, as defined in the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations,
means an injury to, or a disease of, the musculoskeletal system, whether occurring suddenly
or over time. MSDs may include conditions such as:
• Sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
• Back injuries, including damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs,
nerves, joints and bones
• Joint and bone injuries or degeneration, including injuries to the shoulder, elbow,
wrist, hip, knee, ankle, hands and feet
• Nerve injuries or compression (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome)
• Muscular and vascular disorders as a result of hand-arm vibration
• Soft tissue hernias
• Chronic pain MSDs occur in two ways:
• Gradual wear and tear to joints, ligaments, muscles and intervertebral discs caused
by repeated or continuous use of the same body parts, including static body positions
• Sudden damage caused by strenuous activity, or unexpected movements such as
when loads being handled move or change position suddenly
What should you do if you suffer an injury at work (or home)?
If you do suffer an injury it is important to take immediate action. RICER is an acronym to
help you remember the steps in injury care. They stand for;
It is essential to follow the RICER method in the immediate (acute) stage of the injury – that is
the first 24 to 48 hours. The sooner you treat a soft tissue injury, the greater the chance of a
complete recovery. Without treatment scar tissue can limit future movement and strength in
the muscle or joint.
How can you avoid injury at work (or home)?
The Backsafe program sets out a series of proactive actions that will drastically reduce your
risk of creating a musculo-skeletal injury. For example;
• Stretch frequently before work, after breaks and regularly during work activities.
• Shift positions often – the key is to move, move, move.
• Occasionally reverse postures which are maintained for prolonged periods while
occupying a workstation.
• To minimise the effects of exposure to hand-arm or whole-body vibration injuries,
ensure properly cushioned seating and footrests. Where hands could be affected
wear gloves and make sure cushioning to handles are in place.
• Never jump from a vehicle or a loading dock or any elevated area. Climb up and
What is the manual handling hierarchy of controls?
If the hazard cannot be eliminated, the following controls, in descending order of desirability,
should be applied:
• Can the hazard be substituted with a less hazardous one by using a different material or
• Can the hazard be isolated from the worker or the worker from the hazard?
• Can mechanical means be used to minimise the risk?
• Can safer work or administrative practices be put into place?
• As a last resort, can personal protective equipment (PPE) be used?
A combination of the above controls may be necessary if no single measure is enough to
reduce the risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level.
Training, instruction and proper supervision are a vital part of addressing hazardous manual
handling and other vital areas of safety concern in any production process. A manager or a
working person doesn’t know what they don’t know. It is the job of a professional safety
manager to advise and implement training in areas that pose a problem of getting a job done
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be used as part of an integrated organisational
approach to health and safety management. It should complement other control methods,
not replace them.