Improving workplace productivity by eliminating hazardous manual handling
Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or move something. Manual handling injuries are often complex and not caused by one isolated factor.
Effective processes and controls help prevent these types of injuries. Through continuous improvement and risk elimination, businesses can protect the wellbeing of workers and drive increased productivity.
Company A's story
Company A (name withheld for confidentiality) is a food product manufacturer with 50 employees. The company is two years old and has no history of WorkCover injury claims.
The 'hazardous' task
Their food production process involves emptying heavy flour bags into a mixing bowl - 120 bags are added to the mixing bowl every hour to meet targets. Two workers are assigned to lift each bag from the pallet onto the metal grate above the bowl.
Workers often experienced body soreness with this task, which can be attributed to:
- application of high force
- repetitive nature of work
- psychosocial hazards – high job demand (120 bags per hour) and low job control (no option to perform the work differently)
Workers at Company A raised their concerns about the task with their manager. As a result, the company introduced task rotation and increased the number of workers assigned to each task.
A WorkSafe inspector performing a strategic visit arrived at the workplace and identified:
- there were no elected health and safety representatives (HSRs)
- the task still posed a risk of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)
The inspector spoke to the company manager about the role of a HSR, the hierarchy of controls and provided hazardous manual handling guidance. Due to the risk of a MSD when performing the task, an improvement notice was issued.
Responding to, and addressing, workers' concerns through consultation
The company manager held a toolbox meeting for workers and management to talk through the hazardous manual handling issue. Following their meeting, the company:
- Established two designated work groups (DWGs) – one represented the production workers who performed the hazardous task and the second group represented the warehouse and transport workers.
- Elected HSRs from each DWG – management then consulted with the HSRs so workers’ opinions were considered in potential solutions.
Consultation outcomes and risk elimination
Following consultation, Company A purchased a height adjustable pallet riser and trained all relevant workers. Management asked these workers to complete a discomfort survey after operating the new equipment. This identified workers experienced low body stress levels, however it didn’t eliminate the body stress, which meant there was still a risk of a MSD.
After further consultation, the workers and management agreed the new equipment would be used as an interim control until they identified and purchased an engineered system.
Once the engineered system was implemented, all relevant workers received further training and an opportunity to provide feedback. This included completing the discomfort survey again – this time around, the workers showed no body stress or discomfort.
Continuous improvement and increased productivity
Company A is committed to continuous improvement. For them, this includes:
- establishing a health and safety committee
- promoting a positive safety and inclusivity culture where workers openly discuss safety concerns
Through a consultative approach, Company A prioritised their workers' physical and mental safety. By eliminating the MSD risk, Company A experienced an increase in productivity - showing that prioritising safety is good for your bottom line and even better for your workers’ health.