Dangers of Manual Handling in Construction

Manual handling is a practice that occurs on most work sites and especially so in the construction industry.

Poor manual handling is one of the most common hazards that construction workers are confronted  with.  While no site is free from the hazards of manual handling, by knowing how to minimise the risks of manual handling workers can reduce its harmful effect on the body.

Not much attention is given to this type of hazard because it seldom kills or disfigures anyone, but the injuries that occur, although invisible, are often disabling, long term and very costly.

Manual handling is any activity involving the use of muscular force to lift, move, push, pull, carry, hold or restrain any object. Workers in construction that undergo manual handling on a daily basis include for example bricklayers.  It covers more than lifting heavy weights and affects more than just the worker’s back.

Manual handling also includes the repetitive activity seen in bricklaying or plastering. The sustained muscle exertion required to restrain or support a load and the effort needed to maintain the fixed postures that occur in the back and neck while plastering contribute to manual handling injuries.

Injuries often occur due to wear and tear, built up over time which cause stress on the body, such as the repetitive work of plastering or heavy lifting of bricklayers. These effects often become more disabling as workers age so workers ignore them when they are occurring, during their youth.

Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations require employers and employees to work together to manage manual handling risks. The legislation places duties on both employers and employees. As the employer has greater control over the way in which the work is done, they also have a greater share of the responsibility for managing the risk. Manual Handling legislation requires employers and employees to work together and communicate to identify and assess the risk of injury arising from manual handling activities at work.

A proper assessment of the risks will identify the tasks that involve manual handling and their effect on the body. Decide which tasks present a manual handling hazard and the activity it involves. Review incident, injury and first aid reports of incidents that occurred in the past and have a tendency to cause injury. Communicate with workers in determining the difficulty involved with their specific manual handling tasks. Consider all of the risk factors for body stressing in the assessment.

Minimise Risks by putting into place controls that remove or minimise the need for stressful postures, movements and effort while carrying out tasks.

Train employees in manual handling for their specific task and techniques for effective manual handling. Monitor the controls that have been implemented regularly to ensure that they are being correctly utilised and that they are still effective for the task.

Developing a list of manual handling tasks can be quite helpful and can be used as a planning tool to determine which tasks have priority for attention and present the most risk.

Assessing the risk by considering the exposure of workers to  the tasks and the possible effects of that exposure.

Control measures must be determined based on their order of effectiveness in reducing the risk. As with all hazards first try to eliminate the risk completely, this can be done by  altering the workplace design, altering the systems of work used to carry out the task or changing the objects used in manual handling. The tasks you have assessed as high risk require attention first.

If that is not feasible, then the risk must be reduced as far as reasonably possible. Employers have a duty to control the risk of injury.  Some options to consider in developing your solutions include using the risk management approach or consulting designers and manufacturers who supply products. Another method is looking at solutions used by other members of your industry or seeking advice from specialist professionals such as ergonomists or engineers. A possible solution may be for example to carry smaller loads of bricks or use wheel barrows or other method of transport.

Before lifting a load consider if it is absolutely necessary. Can the load be transported using other means such as a wheel barrow or plant or machinery? If it cannot, can a co-worker or co-workers assist you with the load? Only lift a load that you are physically able to carry, consider its height, weight and overall size before attempting to push, pull or lift it.

And most importantly employers must ensure workers on construction sites have received the necessary training. That includes both construction induction training as well as site specific training.

 Posted by Steven Asnicar