November 2018 Newsletter:

Manual Material Handling – Work on Your Work Methods

Manual material handling (MMH) involves lifting/lowering, carrying, pushing/pulling, and/or gripping and is commonplace in many companies and industries. As such, it is important for all companies and their staff to recognize that manual material handling exposes them to various musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) hazards, and thus increased risk of injury. As with all Health and Safety factors, both the employer and the employee have a role to play in the prevention of these injuries; the employer would typically work to remove the hazard through controls but what can the employee do?

Identify Hazards

Step number one is to identify MSD hazards. Before performing any MMH tasks, employees should consider their work to address any potential risk. The main risk factors associated with MMH tasks include:

  • Forceful exertions
  • Awkward postures
  • Repetitive motions
  • Static postures


Step number two is to assess the hazards. Although officially conducted with an ergonomic risk assessment tool, the employee should still do a basic evaluation of each hazard as they are presented with it. They should ask questions such as: “How heavy is this, are there handles, is the path of travel free of obstacles, what are the best body mechanics to use during this lift?” and more. By considering these factors, the employee is effectively doing a basic assessment of the injury risk present.

Implement Controls

The final step is to address the hazards. Control measures are improvements that aim to better match the work to the worker, essentially making the task easier for the worker to perform. As an employee, I have a lot of control over the work method that I use to perform a task and that is where any training or improvement program should focus with staff. Challenge them to ask the question, “What can I do to improve this task?” The answers are straightforward:

  1. Practice safe lifting techniques regardless of weight, including bending the knees, keeping the spine neutral, and keeping the object as near to the body as possible.manual material handling postures
  2. ergonomic intervention for manual material handlingUse available equipment to reduce MMH requirements and ensure proper training and safety is afforded so as not to create further hazards.
  3. Request assistance from a colleague to handle awkward or heavy loads.
  4. Reduce the weight or force being handled (e.g. unpack a box).
  5. Perform regular maintenance of available MMH equipment (e.g. lifts, carts) to ensure optimal working condition.
  6. Implement job rotation to reduce prolonged exposure to MMH hazards.

be smart manual material handling

If your safe lifting and manual material handling training could use a fresh look, let us help. We specialize in delivering engaging training designed to challenge your staff to think through their manual material handling tasks to minimize the impact of poor work method on the development of an injury. Visit our Ergonomic Training page to learn more and get in touch with our team.

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