Finch Consulting’s Health and Safety legal expert Sue Dearden and Chartered OHS expert Dr Steve Cowley this week pool their knowledge and experience to consider the role of the Board in relation to manual handling risks in their business, looking at:
- Key manual handling obligations
- What Directors can do to ensure their business manages manual handling risks
- Common errors
Key Manual Handling Risk Obligations
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 impose on employers a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to:
- avoid hazardous manual handling operations
- risk assess and mitigate the remaining risks to the lowest practicable level taking account of factors such as: the tasks which require manual handling (especially the movements required to perform the tasks); the loads (e.g. weight, size, stability; the working environment (e.g. space constraints and floor stability) and individual capabilities
- provide information about unavoidable manual handling operations regarding the weight of loads and about any imbalance in the weight distribution
Breach of the duties are an offence with substantial fines available to sentence a guilty company. Fines (and prosecution costs) are not covered by insurance so this is very much an issue for your business. Breach of the regulations may also be a breach of the general duties of care identified in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and as Directors, if that breach is attributable to neglect on your part, then you may also be prosecuted and fined, or imprisoned on conviction.
A competent health and safety manager is likely to be cognisant of the need to manage manual handling risks and should have comprehensive risk assessments in place. But as Directors there are things you can and should do, to: ensure that these risk assessments are current and adequate; that you do not breach your duties and help keep the business compliant in this important area.
What Directors can do to help the business avoid breach
- Be aware that manual handling may involve lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing, or pulling movements. It can also involve the application of repetitive and sustained actions and awkward postures. When you see tasks involving any of these, think, could this lift or that movement be avoided, or done in safer way? Engage with your staff – do they think that how they are working could be improved?
- Be aware that manual handling injuries (normally joint and soft tissue injuries in the limbs or spine) can be serious and long term. Avoiding those injuries and early intervention to allow for recovery will normally reduce time off work and reduce claims for compensation against the business. Observe working practices critically. Don’t turn a blind eye to bad practice. Listen to your workforce and be alert and responsive to the first indication of any sign of injury among staff.
- Check that risk assessments do cover the tasks as they are actually carried out.
- Spot check that staff are aware of risk controls and that those controls are being used and that they do reduce risk.
- Ask staff if they have any ideas about how tasks could be further improved.
- Ensure that your health and safety manager is aware of and applying the risk management tools available on the HSE website– any regulatory inspector will use these tools whether on a routine visit or responding to a RIDDOR notification:
(NB An additional tool is also available particularly for those in care settings where the safe movement of people is required)
Common Manual Handling Risk Errors
- Each manual handling risk assessment should break down the task being assessed into component parts and actions. Few do. Which means they are deficient and indefensible when claims are made, and breaches prosecuted.
- Many manual handling risk assessments ignore the hierarchy of control and simply default to training as the risk control measure. Not only does legislation require better controls, but also there is little evidence that training actually mitigates the risk. According to a 2011 study carried out by the Cochrane Collaboration (an international, independent and non-profit organisation which organises medical research to facilitate evidence based choices about health interventions) “training workers in proper material handling techniques or providing them with assistive devices are not effective interventions by themselves in preventing back pain.”
- Risk assessment are often undertaken with generic tools rather than those specific to manual handling. Ensure that your risk assessments use the HSE tools referenced above and aim to ensure that the risks , if not eliminated, are reasonably and proportionately mitigated by controls which are suitable and sufficient for the tasks identified.