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Handling Weights Manually

Handling Weights Manually

In the European Union, about a third of all employees must handle weights daily, spending the majority of their working time on it. Handling weights manually stands for lifting, holding, carrying, placing, or pulling-pushing of heavy objects, either alone or by several employees simultaneously.

Handling weights manually can cause:

  • health damages caused by the constant and gradual deterioration of the skeleton and musculature (e.g., lower back pain);
  • serious damages (e.g. bone fractures; bruises or cuts caused by accidents).

Back pain is the main work-related health complaint (23.8%) in the EU, and considerably more employees (38.9%) mention it in the new Member States.

Several risk factors make the manual handling of weights dangerous and increase the likelihood of injuries.

A weight can bring about a health hazard, if it:

  • is too heavy or too large (there is no safe weight limit; for most people, 20-25 kilograms are heavy to lift), or it is not possible to      follow the main rules of lifting and carrying - i.e. keep the weight as close to the body as possible - therefore, the muscles become exhausted      much faster;
  • has an uncomfortable shape for grabbing: more muscle strength is needed for grabbing, bowing or turning the body;
  • is unstable or its’ contents can move which causes the uneven load and wears the muscles out unevenly because the centre of the object’s mass      is away from the centre of the employee’s body;
  • has a shape or consistency that might harm the employee – especially, when colliding with some other object.

A handling task can bring about a health hazard, if it:

  • can only be achieved with a great physical effort; it is performed too often or for too long;
  • can only be achieved by turning the torso;
  • can cause the sudden movement of the weight;
  • is done with an uncertain or uncomfortable body position (incl. uncomfortable poses or movements, such as bending and/or turning the body, lifting arms, bending the wrists, overstrain).

Working conditions can bring about a health hazard, if:

  • the available space is not sufficient for the handling task (especially in the vertical direction);
  • the floor is unstable or slippery, implicating a risk of falling;
  • the handling work must be done on different floor or surface levels;
  • the ground is unstable;
  • the air temperature or humidity is unsuitable for the handling      task, or there is no necessary ventilation. Heat makes employees languid and it is difficult to hold things in the hands due to sweating – thus, employees must use more strength. Low temperature can turn hands numb, which makes grabbing difficult.

The handling task organization can bring about a health hazard, if:

  • the handling work is too frequent or lasts too long, posing a great burden primarily on the spine;
  • the handling work is performed in the sitting position;
  • the resting or recovery time is too short;
  • the lifting-lowering of the weight is performed at an uncomfortable height (e.g. higher than the shoulders, lower than the knees) or distance      (away from the body);
  • the weight cannot be supported against the body during the carrying, or when the distance is too long;
  • the employee cannot change their working speed due to technical reasons emanating from the work process;
  • the employee is wearing an unsuitable clothing, footwear, or their equipment is not suitable for the handling task.

The employee’s personal characteristics can bring about a health hazard, if:

  • the employee is not adequately trained for the handling task;
  • the employee’s bodily characteristics and abilities (e.g. height, weight, strength) are unsuitable for the specific task;
  • the employee has had back problems before.

Prevention

The employer must adopt organisatory and technical means to avoid or decrease the health hazards caused by the handling task. In the case of great physical load, the employer must enable resting breaks during the workday or shift, which shall be treated as working time. The employer must guarantee that employees whose tasks include handling weights are instructed prior to starting work how to use the tools correctly, avoid hazards and make correct  work motions.

If the handling work makes up most of the employee’s working time, the employee must be at least 18 years old. Handling work is forbidden for persons younger than 16, pregnant women and women during 3 months after childbirth. Accidents and skeletal and muscular disorders can be prevented with eliminating or decreasing the risks related to the handling. First it must be considered whether it is possible to avoid manual handling by adopting power transmission or mechanical handling devices, such as conveyors or loaders. If it is impossible to avoid manual handling, consider the use of assisting devices such as loaders, handcarts and vacuum lifting devices. If the risks related to the manual handling of weights cannot be eliminated nor decreased, the employer must consider work rotation and enable sufficiently long breaks. The employee must be informed about risks and health hazards involved with the manual handling of weights and instructed on the correct use of devices and proper handling methods.

To decrease the employee’s health hazard, the employer must adopt the following measures:

  • provide the employee with adequate technical aids and appliances;
  • if possible, decrease the weight of the handled objects;
  • guarantee internal climate, sufficient ventilation and lighting suitable for the handling procedure;
  • guarantee enough free space on spot and in the hallways and paths to carry out the handling tasks safely;
  • shorten the weight carrying distance;
  • decrease the duration of the handling task and include appropriate resting breaks;
  • organize work so that the employee could alternate the carrying tasks with non-burdening tasks;
  • provide the employee with personal protective means, if the handling task poses a risk of injury.

Proper Handling Means

Prior to lifting the weight, the task must be planned and prepared.

Ensure that:

  • the destination where the weight must be transported to is known;
  • the destination does not have any obstacles;
  • the weight is held steadily;
  • the hands, weight, nor the handles are slippery;
  • when lifting the weight together with someone else, both persons have a clear understanding of the task.

When lifting the weight, pay attention to the following aspects:

  • place feet on both sides of the heavy object, so that the body remains above the weight (if this is not possible, try to be as close to      the weight with your body as possible),
  • use feet muscles when lifting,
  • push the back straight,
  • pull the weight as close to the body as possible,
  • lift the weight up and carry it with straight, downwards-facing hands.     

Pushing and Pulling

It is important that:

  • the object is pushed and pulled with body weight; when pushing, kneel forwards and when pulling, lean backwards;
  • the floor has enough surface to lean the body back or forth;
  • you avoid turning your body and bowing;
  • the handling devices have straps or handles so that arm strength could be used; the height of the handles must be between the shoulders and      waist, enabling to push and pull with the body in neutral position;
  • transportation devices are well-maintained, have proper-size wheels and roll smoothly;
  • floors are solid, straight and clean.

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