Manual handling occurs in every workplace, and involves activities or tasks that require an individual to exert force through movements including lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying. Manual tasks are not always classified as “hazardous”, so what is the difference, and when does manual handling constitute a Hazardous Manual Task?


What is a Hazardous Manual Task?

A Hazardous Manual Task (HMT) is a task requiring a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing whist also involving one or more of the following:

  • Repetitive or sustained force
  • High or sudden force
  • Repetitive movement
  • Sustained or awkward posture
  • Exposure to vibration

The hazards involved in these tasks can come from the work itself, the method by which they are performed, work design, tools and equipment, and the physical work environment.

Example: Lifting a heavy object such as a truck battery is a manual handling task that could be done with correct lifting technique or other method or assistance. However, imagine you need to perform this task in a restricted workspace, such as lifting and manoeuvring it into the engine space of an armoured vehicle. This would constitute a hazardous manual task where sustained force and awkward posture are involved.


What are the health risks of manual tasks?

Manual tasks directly stress the body and therefore increase the likelihood of a worker sustaining an injury. Of particular note are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which manual tasks are a primary cause of. These take the form of sprains, strains, back injuries, damaged ligaments, joint and bone injuries, nerve injuries, muscular and vascular disorders, hernias, and chronic pain.

The two main ways in which MSDs occur are through:

  • Gradual wear and tear on areas of a worker’s body through repeated or continuous activities
  • Sudden damage through a strenuous activity or unexpected movements

MSDs affect both your workers and your business, with long-term health and mobility implications for workers, and morale, monetary, and productivity impacts on a business. According to Safe Work NSW, over 30% of workers compensation claims in New South Wales are MSDs.

It is therefore necessary to identify those tasks that are hazardous and ensure they are adequately managed.


Your WHS duties and obligations

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), or employer, has a duty to assess and manage the risks of manual handling in order to keep their workers and workplaces safe. So far as reasonably practicable, a PCBU must:

  • Ensure the health and safety of workers and others at their workplace
  • Consult with workers who carry out work for the PCBU and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a health and safety matter
  • Consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with all other relevant duty holders

Specific duties also apply to designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant and structures.

The duties that apply to manual handling, such as managing risks of hazardous manual tasks, plant and the working environment, are detailed in the Model WHS Regulations. Additionally, the Model Code of Practice: Hazardous Manual Tasks outlines how to manage the risks involved.


Managing the risks of manual tasks

The four stages in the risk management process for hazardous manual tasks are:

  1. Identifying hazardous manual tasks
  2. Assessing the risks
  3. Controlling the risks
  4. Reviewing control measures

The identification of hazardous manual tasks can be achieved through consulting your workers and contractors, reviewing records such as inspection reports incidents and complaints, looking for trends, and actually observing tasks performed on site.

A risk assessment of hazardous manual tasks should be conducted in order to identify situations that pose a risk, the point at which they introduce danger, why they occur, and potential means to eliminate or reduce the risks. Consider how tasks may affect more at-risk individuals where there are variances in their physical condition and experience.

By applying the Hierarchy of Control, you can find opportunities to eliminate or reduce risks of hazardous manual tasks through:

  • Elimination
  • Substitution
  • Isolation
  • Engineering
  • Administration
  • PPE

Example: A solution to the truck battery scenario above would be to design and manufacture a lifting jig or mobile gantry that could be safely attached to the battery, then use the overhead bridge crane to lift and move the battery into place. All the mechanic would then have to do then was steer it inside the engine bay and remove the jig once in place.

Read: What is the Hierarchy of Control?


Prequalifying contractors for manual tasks

The utilisation of contractors does not absolve you of your duty to provide a safe workplace.

Contractors are often great at innovating and finding practical solutions to unexpected problems on site, but it is common for them to be lax when it comes to writing down what they did so they can refer to it next time or share their knowledge. This is where building a safety culture is important, to encourage people to think about the benefits of capturing that knowledge and having it documented for later.

Prequalification through contractor management systems such as Cm3 equips organisations with peace of mind that they are engaging contractors that are equipped to conduct their work involving manual tasks safely and compliantly. During a contractor‘s registration process in Cm3, they build their Business Risk Profile. This details the potential risks involved in their line of work and assigns them with Risk Reviews to complete, enabling Cm3’s dedicated assessment team make informed judgements on their preparedness for their clients’ work.

Once engaged, your contractors should be properly inducted to your expectations around correct manual handling procedures. It is of particular importance that information considering what was identified in your risk assessment be included in site inductions. This constitutes part of your due diligence in ensuring workers and contractors who are less familiar with your particular site are aware of the risks, and the controls you have in place. Learn more about the importance of site inductions

Contact Cm3 to learn more about managing your contractor risks and compliance.