More than a manual handling policy
Facilities managers have a major role to play in avoiding musculoskeletal problems in the workplace. PETER DUNPHY looks at manual handling policies.
Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most common work- related injuries and diseases.
They are an injury to, or disease of, the body’s musculoskeletal system and include sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.
They can result from gradual wear and tear or sudden damage to the body, and are commonly caused by hazardous manual tasks and slips, trips and falls.
A musculoskeletal disorder can have a long-term, costly impact for businesses and workers.
Manual tasks that require the use of repetitive, sustained, high or sudden force present a musculoskeletal disorder risk. Other risks include tasks that require repetitive movement, sustained or awkward posture and exposure to vibration.
To address these risks, businesses should design a work environment and systems of work that eliminate these tasks as much as possible.
Data from the New South Wales State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) shows that musculoskeletal disorders occur across all industries and occupations, with hazardous manual tasks the most common cause of injury, accounting for 29 percent of all workplace injuries in the state.
In fact, over the three years to July 2016, there were 19,525 major workers’ compensation claims for musculoskeletal disorders at an average cost of $32,744 each.
In October 2017, in an effort to reduce the number and severity of serious work related injuries, SafeWork NSW launched a Musculoskeletal Disorder Strategy. The Strategy features an annual Action Plan that takes a multi-pronged, risk- based approach to address the issues of musculoskeletal disorders in NSW workplaces and to improve injured persons’ recovery at work.
The 2017/18 Action Plan focuses on specific industries and occupations with some of the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorder injuries in NSW, including the supermarket and grocery store sector, state and local government, storepersons, healthcare and social assistance workers.
At SafeWork NSW, we believe businesses should use consultation and communication as the foundation for the effective management of work health and safety, particularly the prevention and reduction of musculoskeletal disorders. It should include workers, managers and other businesses.
Workplace leaders, people responsible for purchasing, designers and engineers, allied health professionals and educators can also influence a worker’s exposure to hazardous manual tasks, and their recovery at work.
As a workplace leader, a facilities manager has the ability to consult with numerous stakeholders and be a conduit between workers and other decision-makers.
To eliminate and reduce workers’ exposure to potential musculoskeletal disorders, facilities managers should aim
to eliminate hazards when planning and designing any work areas, workplace layout and systems of work.
For example, if any part of a building is being upgraded, look at how it will impact the health and safety of workers. Will the design and layout of a new storage area mean that a worker needs to adopt an awkward posture or use force to manage stock in the storage area?
The benefits of safe design are twofold. It reduces the risk of injury and illness for workers and others, and it also
reduces the potential costs to the business such as: retrofitting, worker productivity and production downtime during unnecessary changes.
Facilities managers should endeavour to increase the use of what is referred to as ‘high level’ controls and reduce reliance on ‘low level’ controls. For example, don’t just write a ‘manual handling’ policy, fix the actual problem.
The health and safety of workers and others should also be considered in organisational decision-making such as purchasing. Questions to ask include: is the equipment fit for purpose for those who need to use it? You should always trial equipment before purchasing it and consult with workers to see if it presents any health and safety risks.
Facilities managers should have effective systems for reporting and resolving musculoskeletal disorder issues and ensure compliance with systems, control measures and legislation.
While eliminating or reducing hazards by design and implementing high level controls is ideal, you also need to monitor and review any implemented controls measures to ensure they remain effective. If you think your business or workplace would benefit from advice on how to address musculoskeletal disorder risks, SafeWork NSW offers free advisory visits to sole traders or small businesses with up to 50 full-time equivalent staff.
A SafeWork inspector will provide practical workplace safety, workers’ compensation and injury management advice that is relevant to your small business and will work through any areas of concern with you. They can also help you create a basic safety improvement plan to make your business safer.
SafeWork NSW also has numerous resources to help businesses and facilities managers address musculoskeletal disorder risks. These can all be downloaded from its website, which has a dedicated webpage on manual task safety.
For further information on how to manage musculoskeletal disorder risks or to download a copy of the Musculoskeletal Disorder Strategy visit www.safework.nsw.gov.au or call 131 050.
Peter Dunphy is the executive director of SafeWork NSW.
This article also appears in the Feb/Mar issue of Facility Management magazine.
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