Manual handling in the food manufacturing industry: A guide for employers
Guidance on the following pages may help employers in the food manufacturing industry eliminate or reduce risks to employees whose work involves manual handling.
Practical solutions for common tasks
The guidance on the following pages describes common manual handling tasks in the food industry. It provides practical solutions that may enable employees to complete the tasks safely.
The guidance is based on common risk factors in the food industry and explains which risk factors may be present in the workplace. In particular, this guidance identifies risk factors that may result in high-risk work practices. These high-risk practices can put employees at risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). An MSD is an injury, illness or disease that arises in whole or in part from hazardous manual handling. MSDs can occur suddenly or over a prolonged period. 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 and bones
joint and bone injuries, including injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle, hands and feet
nerve injuries or compression
muscular and vascular disorders
chronic musculoskeletal pain
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) require employers to carry out risk assessments and implement risk controls. The risk of developing an MSD will vary depending on circumstances in the workplace and this guidance cannot replace the requirement to undertake risk assessments and implement risk controls.
WorkSafe's guidance, Controlling OHS hazards and risks: A handbook for workplaces, has more information about risk assessments and risk controls. The handbook sets out how to control occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards and risks.
Manual handling and MSDs
Manual handling in the food industry covers a wide range of activities. Examples include tasks such as handling raw materials or packaging, handling empty and full containers on and off conveyors and packing and inspecting product. These tasks can result in MSDs and other types of injury.
Hazardous manual handling is work requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain:
a thing if the work involves one or more of the following:
repetitive or sustained application of force
sustained awkward posture
application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking
exposure to sustained vibration
live people or animals
loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold or grasp
Statistics show that injuries to the musculoskeletal system are among the most common injuries reported to WorkSafe.
More information about hazardous manual handling and MSDs is available on the WorkSafe website.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as reasonably practicable. An employer contravenes this duty if they fail to:
provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health
make arrangements for ensuring, so far as reasonably practicable, safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances
maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at any workplace under the management and control of the employer
provide information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those employees to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
Employers also have an obligation to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters related to health and safety that directly affect them or that are likely to directly affect them. This duty to consult also extends to independent contractors, including any employees of the independent contractor, engaged by the employer in relation to matters over which the employer has control.
While at work, employees, have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions in the workplace. Employees must also co-operate with their employer's actions to make the workplace safe and comply with the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.
The WorkSafe website has a range of guidance about the OHS responsibilities of employers and employees.
Under the OHS Regulations, employers must identify any hazardous manual handling undertaken by an employee and eliminate any risk of an MSD associated with hazardous manual handling, so far as reasonably practicable. For example, elimination can be achieved through automating or redesigning to eliminate manual handling.
If it is not practicable to eliminate a risk of an MSD associated with hazardous manual handling, employers must reduce the risk so far as reasonably practicable.
Employers can reduce the risk by:
altering the workplace layout or environmental conditions, including heat, cold and vibration. For example, using overhead hoists
altering the systems of work which involve hazardous manual handling. For example, adjusting work rates, regular maintenance on equipment, job rotation and team handling
changing the things used in hazardous manual handling. For example, changing the delivery method from a bag to a bulk system
using mechanical aids. For example, pallet lifters, height-adjustable trolleys, overhead hoists or forklift attachments
using a combination of risk controls
If a risk of an MSD associated with hazardous manual handling remains after implementing these risk control measures so far as is reasonably practicable, the employer must use information, instruction or training to reduce the risk so far as reasonably practicable. It is important to understand that providing information, training and instruction in manual handling techniques cannot be the sole or primary way of controlling the risk of MSD associated with hazardous manual handling unless none of the other risk control measures are reasonably practicable.
Combine risk controls
A combination of risk controls often provides the best solution to eliminating or reducing risk. Consulting with employers and HSRs and trialling proposed solutions can help employers decide whether a solution is right for their workplace or whether they require further controls.
Review risk controls
Employers have a duty to review risk controls to make sure the controls are working properly. Employers must review and, if necessary, revise risk controls:
before any change is made to any thing, process or system of work involving hazardous manual handling, including a change in the place where the work is undertaken
if new or additional information about hazardous manual handling becomes available to the employer
if an occurrence of an MSD at a workplace is reported by or on behalf of an employee
after any incident occurs to which Part 5 of the OHS Act applies that involves hazardous manual handling
if, for any reason, the risk control measures implemented at the workplace do not adequately control the risks
when an HSR requests a review of the risk control measures implemented at the workplace
The OHS Act explains what employers must take into account when deciding if something is 'reasonably practicable'. In general terms, the factors to take into account are:
the likelihood of the hazard or risk eventuating
the degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk eventuated
what the employer knows, or should reasonably know, about the hazard or risk and any ways of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk
the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk
the cost of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk
More information about how WorkSafe applies the law in relation to reasonably practicable is available on the WorkSafe website.
Under the OHS Act, employers have a duty to consult with employees and any HSRs on a range of matters. So far as reasonably practicable, employers must consult employees and HSRs on matters related to health and safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect employees. This duty to consult also extends to independent contractors, including any employees of the independent contractor engaged by the employer in relation to matters over which the employer has control.
The OHS Regulations set out how employers must involve HSRs in consultation. WorkSafe also has guidance about consultation, including consultation with HSRs.
The duty to consult recognises that employee participation improves decision-making about health and safety matters. Consultation between employers and employees is an essential part of managing health and safety at work. It should not be seen just as a legal requirement. Rather, consultation should be viewed as a valuable means of improving the employer’s decisions about health and safety matters.
Through consultation, employers can become more aware of the hazards and OHS issues employees experience. As well, employees can provide suggestions about how to solve OHS problems. This participation enables employees to contribute to working out how work can be done safely.
Plant and other hazards
If employers introduce plant and risk controls to reduce the risk of an MSD from manual handling, they should ensure that other risks that may be introduced into the system of work are eliminated or controlled, so far as reasonably practicable. For example:
the introduction of a forklift will require a forklift traffic management plan to segregate pedestrians from forklifts and licensing of all forklift operators
when using cranes to handle items, loads must be within the manufacturer’s specified working load limit and a program put in place to monitor damage to slings and cranes
changes to equipment will require a plant risk assessment. This is to ensure employees are not injured by newly introduced hazards such as trapping points or in-running nip points. A risk assessment also ensures controls are put in place if risk is present
WorkSafe's Plant compliance code and the guidance Plant and your legal duties have more information about legal duties relating to the use of plant in the workplace.
This information is from 'Manual handling in the food manufacturing industry: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.