More than a quarter of workplace injuries result from overexertion, usually when a worker moves or lifts objects such as materials, equipment, supplies, or debris, as is typical in Landscaping and Gardening (L&G) activities.
Improper handling and lifting of heavy or bulky objects is a major source of strains, sprains, neck injuries, back injuries, and hernias. These injuries can be very painful and chronic, affecting your quality of life for weeks, months, or years, preventing you from working or enjoying life in general.
As part of a company’s Health, Safety and Environmental Management Plan (HSEMP), one of the major Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) to address and implement is the Hazardous Manual Handling SOP, which covers a major part of L&G’s labour intensive activities.
It is recommended that an OHS Specialist prepares the basic SOP in consultation with the workforce, with site specific considerations added as the need arises.
Hazardous Manual Handling (HMH) is a vast OHS topic, and for workplace consideration requires focused attention to job-specific activities. The topic is far too complicated and diverse to cover extensively here, but we will address the essential components as related to L&G, with recommended references for a detailed coverage of the identification of hazard examples and their controls.
Hazardous Manual Handling and its job-specific components should be considered in the development of the L&G SWMS, together with Risk Assessments and SOPs, as covered in earlier articles.
To gain a more complete understanding of the H&S implications of HMH further reading is recommended, including the OHS
Regulations and WorkSafe Compliance Code:
- Occupational Health and Safety Act – 2004.
- Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (especially parts 3.1.and 3.5).
- WorkSafe Compliance Code – Hazardous Manual Handling (practical guidance in relation to hazardous manual handling under the OHS Regulations).
The Compliance Code HMH focuses on minimising musculoskeletal (MSD) injuries by avoiding particular body movements, or implementing controls (mechanical aids or procedures) to eliminate or minimise the impact of those movements.
The mechanical aids in fact may increase the potential hazards to operators if equipment is not used safely. With correct training and attention to safe operating procedures they can significantly improve efficiency, with improved safety.
Activities listed in the SWMS should identify any hazard considered as Hazardous Manual Handling, as defined in the Compliance Code:
1.2 Definition of Hazardous Manual Handling (HMH)
- HMH is defined as 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 it involves any of the following – o Repetitive or sustained application of force.
- Sustained awkward posture.
- Repetitive movement.
- Application of high force involving single or repetitive use of force 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.
2.0 HMH in SWMS
Specific HMH hazards/risks should be listed in all SWMS, where each site-specific activity may have an HMH component, with mechanical assistance (plant), or administrative procedure as the control.
In turn, the specific hazards/risks associated with the nominated controls should also be risk assessed to ensure the activity’s risks are eliminated or mitigated. For example, 2.1 below.
2.1 SWMS Matrix Example
Activity A: Loading rubble onto truck using manpower and shovels.
Hazards A: HMH hazard/Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD) – sprain, strain, etc.
Uncontrolled Risks A: Hazard assessed as High/Unacceptable, therefore adequate controls are required.
Controls A: Mandatory controls to eliminate or mitigate the risk to an acceptable level:
1. Use Bobcat/loader; or 2. follow SOP for HMH – for example, use back brace support (PPE), smaller shovels, team lifting, wheelbarrow into a grade level skip.
Controlled Risk A: Low, acceptable. The nominated Control (for example,Bobcat) may be the most practical solution, but may in itself present a hazard, and an unacceptable risk to workers unless it also is risk assessed and adequate controls applied. For example:
Activity B: Loading rubble onto truck using Bobcat.
Hazards B: Collision danger to other workers, rollover on uneven ground, etc. – serious injuries including crushing, etc.
Uncontrolled Risk B: High.
Controls B: Operator training/registered as competent in Training and Competency Register. Equipment maintained in safe operating condition, Equipment Maintenance Register.
Controlled Risk B: Low, acceptable.
The issues of Risk Management, Training and SOPs have been covered in earlier articles, and they apply in all aspects of HMH.
3.0 Landscaping and Gardening HMH Issues
3.1 The most common gardening injuries include:
- Neck pain.
- Shoulder tendonitis.
- Low back pain.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Tenosynovitis of the thumb.
- Pre-patellar bursitis.
3.2 Common gardening injuries are caused by unsafe use of manual tools (spades, forks, rakes, etc) and especially labour saving, mechanised tools and equipment, such as:
- Ride-on mowers – Small cuts and burns to major amputations and fatalities
- from rollovers.
- Chippers and shredders – Small cuts and burns to major amputations and death.
- Skid-steer loaders – injuries or death from machine impact or overturning.
- Hand operated tools – with common MSD injuries over prolonged periods, for example:
- Chainsaws – Catastrophic injuries or death.
- Whipper snippers – Projectiles hazard resulting in cuts, bruises and eye injuries.
- Leaf blowers – As for whipper snippers
- Manual tools such as knives, loppers, or pruning shears and electric tools such as hedge trimmers – cuts and overuse injuries, and may trigger falls from ladders if over-reaching.
4.0 Equipment Maintenance and Training Employers must ensure equipment is maintained and workers trained in the safe use, maintenance and storage of equipment, including:
- Maintaining integrity of safety features (for example, guards, shields, safety interlocks, etc.).
- Lock out Tag Out (LOTO) procedure.
- Wearing appropriate PPE.
- Maintaining an Equipment Maintenance Register, recording the maintenance history of all equipment.
- Maintaining an Employee Training and Competency Register, and ensure only appropriately trained workers operate any equipment.