Helping customers manage manual handling risks
The vast majority of occupations involve some form of manual handling – that is, an activity that requires the use of force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain a person, animal or object.
Of course, the extent to which manual handling is involved on a day-to-day basis will vary greatly between each job, however each presents its own risk.
For businesses, it’s vitally important the correct processes and procedures – and coverage – are in place. Workers’ compensation figures from 2018-19 show there were more than 114,000 serious claims1 (serious is defined as needing one week or more off work2), and as well as affecting premiums, injury can be detrimental to staff retention, morale and, ultimately, profitability3.
“There’s a huge opportunity for brokers to work with their customers to help them understand the risk of manual handling, and how to identify and control those risks,” says Jonathon Roberts-Thomson, Injury Management Specialist at QBE.
“If businesses manage those risks well, they’ll not only have fewer workplace injuries and workers’ compensation claims, but also lower premiums.
“This can also have a flow-on effect, improving workplace culture, health and wellbeing, and relationships between managers and workers.”
Common workplace injuries
Manual handling tasks can cause a range of injuries, with 36 per cent – more than 41,000 incidences in 2018-19 – falling into the category of ‘body stressing’4, a term used to encapsulate musculoskeletal disorders commonly associated with manual handling tasks.
This includes tasks involving non-powered hand tools, appliances and equipment, furniture, ladders, scaffolding, materials and substances – such as cement, bricks and timber – and animal, biological and human agencies, like fatigue5.
In second place, after ‘body stressing’, came falls, trips and slips, accounting for 26,000 serious claims (23 per cent), while in third place, being hit by a moving object resulted in 18,355 serious claims (16 per cent)6.
And the claims certainly add up in terms of compensation payments. Over the 17 years to 2017-18, compensation paid for ‘body stressing’ has increased by 174 per cent; the median claim in 2017-18 was $13,300 compared with $4900 in 2000-017.
Compensation paid includes weekly benefits, rehabilitation, medical treatment, legal costs, transport, and common law settlements.
Of course, this figure doesn’t account for any business impact, such as interruption to work, costs of recruiting and training a replacement, loss of productivity or reputational damage.
In addition to the physical consequence for a worker who’s suffered injury, there are other impacts to consider too – a reduction in fitness, as well as the negative impact on family and social lives and the worker’s financial situation.
Understanding hazardous manual tasks
While all manual handling needs to be undertaken with care, businesses should be particularly cautious around what are termed by Safe Work Australia as ‘hazardous manual tasks’.
These are tasks and situations that may contribute to a musculoskeletal disorder – usually those that have repetitive, sustained, high and/or sudden force, and/or require a sustained and/or awkward posture, are repetitive and/or are exposed to vibration.
Duty holders have a role in managing the risks of hazardous manual handling under the Work Health and Safety Act. Business owners have a primary duty of care, while workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of their colleagues.
“A good place to start is by consulting workers, observing manual tasks and reviewing information such as incident reports and workers’ compensation claims to identify trends with specific hazardous tasks,” says Roberts-Thomson.
“From there, it’s important to assess and control the risk, then review the effectiveness of the control measure.”
Guidance from Safe Work Australia goes into detail on how businesses should manage hazardous manual tasks, and outlines examples of tasks that fall under each risk. For example, lifting and stacking goods onto a pallet would be an example of a repetitive task, while sustained force could be holding down the trigger on a power tool. High-force tasks could include restraining an animal, while sudden force includes throwing or catching objects8.
Hazardous manual tasks aren’t confined to more manual jobs, however – typing and other keyboard tasks would be classed as ‘repetitive’.
Controlling the risk
Once the hazard has been identified, the risk must be assessed with the aim to eliminate it. If not, controls should be put in place to minimise the impact on employees. This may include changing the work area layout and condition, using mechanical aids, or training employees on how to undertake those duties in a safer way.
“Once control measures have been implemented, it’s important to regularly review them to ensure they remain effective,” says Roberts-Thomson.
“Consulting with workers is an obligation under Section 47 of the Work Health and Safety Act9, so consultation throughout the risk-management process is essential.”
Next steps for brokers and businesses
It’s important to ensure customers are identifying hazards, assessing the risks, controlling the risks and reviewing the controls within the workplace.
Not only will these actions be important from an insurance and workplace health and safety perspective, they also create a more positive and attractive environment for people to work in – which, ultimately, should drive greater business outcomes.
1, 2, 4-7 https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-01/Australian%20Workers%20%20Compensation%20Statistics%202018-19p%20FINAL_2.pdf