Manual Materials Handling Following Driving

Manual material handling (MMH) involves moving or manipulating an object, by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, or pulling. Such tasks may expose workers, including drivers, to physical injuries, lost time claims, and/or lost resources. The ability to perform these tasks will vary due to age, physical capabilities, individual stature, size and weight of the object, and storage location (e.g. height and distance away), among others.

This issue may be particularly relevant to the division of your workforce responsible for driving to make deliveries and/or sales staff who may be lifting heavy or awkward objects from vans, trucks or vehicle trunks after prolonged seated postures where they are exposed to constant, low level, vibration from the vehicle.

On the surface, a career as a delivery person appears straightforward. Load your truck, drive to a site, and unload but consider this: Say you load your truck in the morning, drive 1 hour to your destination, and then hop out to unload. Not only have you been seated in a static posture for an hour, but you've also endured repeated vibrations to the body. Now you are exerting a force on the body in this condition to unload the truck.

In the fitness industry, a proper warm-up is considered essential to reduce injury risk and prepare the body for physical activity. As a driver, who is statically positioned for extended periods of time, the same should be implemented to prepare the body for any and all MMH tasks required in loading and unloading the vehicle. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, exposure to whole body vibrations over a long period of time (i.e. years) may result in various health disorders including muscular and back disorders. Compounded with the static postures and then repetitive forceful lifting, injury risk is amplified. So how do employers ensure safe MMH, specifically after sitting for a lengthy period of time?

Where do you start?

As an employer, it is important to promote safe and health work practices (e.g. MMH procedures) for all employees, including drivers. Consider the following as 'best practice' steps to ensure you are providing the best message to your staff:

  1. Layout and Equipment
    One factor often overlooked is the actual vehicle structure (layout, equipment, etc.). Consider taking an ergonomic approach by looking at ways to reduce reaching and bending (e.g. trunk nets so items stay near the front) and ensure heavier objects are stored at a more appropriate height (e.g. closer to waist height). Delivery vehicles may also have a height adjustable loading platform to assist with awkward height lifts. Remember that engineering controls are the ideal solution.
  2. MMH Training
    This training should include education on proper lifting mechanics and proper postures during such tasks
  3. Standing Breaks
    Ensure your staff are taking a few (3-5) minutes after exiting the vehicle before lifting. This can include work tasks such as order confirmations, paperwork, notes, preparing for the next delivery, etc. If possible, encourage the drivers to warm-up with short bouts of walking or other low intensity activities. The goal here is to allow your spine to recover from the vibration exposure in order to minimize lifting risk.
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