Hazardous manual handling solutions in the textile industry

Guidance for employers on common hazards associated with manual handling in the textile industry and risk control measures to help eliminate or reduce workplace health and safety risks.

Introduction

The Victorian textiles industry covers many diverse industries, including:

  • yarns
  • broad woven fabrics
  • wool scouring
  • top making
  • textile finishing
  • household textiles

The textiles industry is labour intensive and many employees suffer unnecessary injuries, such as sprains and strains, associated with hazardous manual handling. These injuries increase costs for employers. The human costs for injured employees and their families is far greater.

Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. It is the biggest cause of injuries in Victorian workplaces.

Use this guidance to assist in the review of your risk control measures in the workplace. Identify hazards in your operations that can contribute to the risk of an injury. For example, unnecessary double handling is a common and inefficient way of working which can increase the risk of injury.

This guidance has industry examples that demonstrate how musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) risk factors associated with hazardous manual handling are assessed and controlled. It provides multiple short and long-term control options.

Hazardous manual handling

Hazardous manual handling means work requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain something if the work involves one or more of the following:

  • repetitive or sustained application of force
  • sustained awkward posture
  • repetitive movement
  • application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force that it would be reasonable to expect that a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking
  • exposure to sustained vibration
  • live persons or animals
  • unstable or unbalanced loads or loads that are difficult to grasp or hold

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

An MSD is an 'injury, illness or disease that arises in whole or in part from hazardous manual handling, whether occurring suddenly or over a prolonged period'.

Injuries can also occur due to a combination of both these mechanisms, for example, body tissue that is weakened by cumulative wear and tear may be vulnerable to sudden damage from a strenuous task.

MSDs do not include an injury caused by crushing, entrapment or any cut resulting primarily from the mechanical operation of plant.

MSDs include:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • back injuries, including damage to the:
    • muscles
    • tendons
    • ligaments
    • spinal discs
    • nerves
    • joints
    • bones
  • joint and bone injuries, including injuries to the:
    • shoulder
    • elbow
    • wrist
    • hip
    • knee
    • ankle
    • hands
    • feet
  • nerve injuries or compression (for example, carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • muscular and vascular disorders
  • chronic musculoskeletal pain
  • soft tissue hernias

Eliminating or reducing the risk

Keep your employees safe by eliminating or controlling some of the most common hazardous manual handling in the workplace.

Consult with employees

Employers have a duty to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with employees and HSRs when identifying hazardous manual handling or MSD risks in the workplace. Consulting employees is critical because they understand the workplace and are exposed to the risks. Their knowledge and experience will help to identify problem areas and provide practical solutions.

Involve employees by having trained health and safety representatives established in your workplace. Health and safety representatives must be consulted when identifying hazards, and assessing and controlling risks.

Identifying hazards

Identifying hazards is the first step in the process of managing occupational health and safety risks in the workplace.

Assessing and controlling the risks

The management of occupational health and safety risk is successful only if appropriate risk control measures are implemented. The second step is to assess exactly which manual handling risks require control.

If the risks cannot be eliminated immediately, short-term measures to reduce the risk of an injury occurring are recommended while deciding how and when long-term controls will be applied. A combination of risk control measures are often required to provide the best solutions. The risk control measures should be reviewed after a short period to assess their effectiveness and if any further changes or improvements are required.

A risk assessment closely looks at work that involves hazardous manual handling to assess if it presents a risk of MSD.

You do not need a formal risk assessment if there is knowledge and understanding of the risk and its controls. If you are unsure, a risk assessment can help.

Other hazards to consider

Common hazardous manual handling issues

Trolleys

If trolleys are overloaded, not maintained, or used for material and tasks for which they are not designed, this can cause MSDs to employees.

Solutions

  • Use large wheels or castors with low-friction bearings to reduce force.
  • Check wheels and castors are regularly cleaned and maintained to reduce forces involved in trolley handling.
  • Add skirts to the base of trolleys to prevent fibre entangling in wheels and castors.
  • Check that trolleys have suitable handle height, width and placement to reduce bent postures and force while pushing and manoeuvring.
  • Use vertical handles to cater for employees of different height, reducing the force required to move the trolley.
  • Implement an effective 'tag out' system to identify, remove and repair damaged or faulty equipment.
  • Maintain all equipment, including mechanical aids to minimise risk.
  • Choose appropriate wheel material and type for the floor surface.

Floor surfaces

Floor surfaces in the textile industry can be slippery from lubricant spills, grease, dust, fibre or other substances settling on surfaces. Cracked or uneven floors can make it harder for employees to move trolleys and tubs.

Solutions

  • apply control measures to eliminate, reduce and control oil and lubricant spills and airborne dust or fibre
  • regularly degrease floor surfaces exposed to spills
  • regularly clean and vacuum to remove dust and fibres
  • regularly repair and maintain floor surfaces

Heat

In some processes, raw materials (for example, nylon) are heated to produce a fibre. Hazardous manual handling in a hot environment may expose employees to an increased risk of MSD due to fatigue. Heat resistant gloves may reduce dexterity, resulting in awkward hand, wrist and arm postures. When wearing gloves, higher forces may need to be applied to ensure a firm grip.

Solutions

  • Use a mechanical device where practicable, to reduce the risk associated with handling hot objects.
  • Reduce direct contact with hot objects by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as heat resistant gloves or gauntlets.
  • When using gloves, reduce the weights of objects handled.
  • Reduce exposure to hot environments where practicable, with regular breaks in a cooler environment.
  • Ensure cool fluids are available at all times in the work area.
  • When a process is delayed or stops for a period of time, where practicable, ensure employees move to a cooler environment, rather than remain inactive in the hot environment.
  • Maintain the working environment at a temperature suitable for employees to undertake manual handling tasks.

Job rotation

Job rotation does not reduce the risks associated with hazardous manual handling. It can reduce exposure time to risk but it does not address the source of the risk and is often used ineffectively. Job rotation should only be used as an interim measure while implementing other risk control measures, or when trialling other control measures.

Fact sheets

Common hazardous manual handling and solutions in the textile industry.

Contributors

WorkSafe Victoria acknowledges the following contributors to this publication:

  • Australian Industry Group
  • Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry
  • Textiles, Clothing & Footwear Union of Australia
  • Council of Textile and Fashion
  • Industries of Australia Ltd
  • Victorian Trades Hall Council
  • Bradmill Undare Group
  • Caprice Australia Pty Ltd
  • Australian Country Spinners Pty Ltd
  • Electronik Fabric Makers
  • Feltex Australia Pty Ltd
  • Fibremakers Australia Pty Ltd
  • Geelong Wool Combing Ltd
  • Melbourne Scouring Company
  • Riverside Textiles Pty Ltd
  • Techni-Fleece Industries
  • Visypak Industrial Textiles

Special thanks to all who participated in the publication development workshops. WorkSafe Victoria also acknowledges Materials Handling Pty Ltd, Workplace Safety Services and Instant Access for permission to use their images in this guide.

Further information