Chapter 5: Hazardous Manual Handling

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 activities.

1.0 Introduction:
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 (SOP’s) to address and implement is the Hazardous Manual Handling SOP, which covers a major part of landscape and gardening 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 focussed 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 landscape and gardening, 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 landscape and gardening SWMS, together with Risk Assessments and SOPs, as covered in earlier articles.

To gain a more complete understanding of the health and safety implications of Hazardous Manual Handling further reading is recommended, including the OHS Regulations and WorkSafe Compliance Code:

1.1 References

  • 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 focusses on minimizing musculoskeletal (MSD) injuries by avoiding particular body movements or implementing controls (mechanical aids or procedures) to eliminate or minimize the impact of those movements.

The mechanical aids in fact may increase the potential hazards to operators if equip-ment 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.

1.1 Definition of Hazardous Manual Handling (HMH)
The following definitions of Hazardous Manual Handling include

  • 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
    o sustained awkward posture
    o repetitive movement
    o application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force that a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking
    o exposure to sustained vibration
  • live persons or animals
  • Unstable or unbalanced loads, or loads that are difficult to grasp or hold.

2.0 Hazardous manual handling in Safe Work Method Statement (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: use of bobcat/loader, excavator, etc.

The issues of Risk Management, Training and SOP’s have been covered in earlier articles, and they apply in all aspects of HMH.

3.2 Common gardening injuries
These are caused by unsafe use of manual tools (spades, forks, rakes, etc.) and especially labour saving, mechanized tools and equipment, such as:

ZTR’s(zero turn mowers), push mowers, site dumpers, irrigation products and construction equipment.

  • Ride-on mowers / ZTR’s – From small cuts and burns to major amputations and fatalities from rollovers. ZTR’s have more safety features than conventional Ride-ons, but similar hazards exist if inappropriately operated
  • Chippers and shredders – From small cuts and burns to major amputations and death
  • Skid-steer loaders – Injuries or death from machine impact or overturning
  • Bobcats – Injuries or death from machine impact or overturning, if safe operating procedures not followed
  • Site Dumpers – Tractor-like vehicles with large buckets for transferring rubble, soil, gravel, etc. on worksites. Injuries or death from machine impact or overturning, especially if operating instructions not followed and bucket is overloaded.
  • Construction Equipment – For example small cranes, telehandlers, may need to be all-terrain if operated on uneven ground, and may be very unstable if not operated by licensed operators and in accordance with safe operating procedures

Hand operated tools- With common MSD injuries over prolonged periods. Examples included

o Chainsaws – catastrophic injuries or death
o Whipper Snippers – projectiles hazard resulting in cuts, bruises, and eye injuries
o Leaf blowers – as for Whipper Snippers
o Manual tools such as knives, loppers, or pruning shears and electric tools such as hedge trimmers – cuts and overuse injuries. Other injuries 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

Further reading: There is a lot of information available on Manual Handling on the internet, and it is recommended that workers and supervisors research the hazards applicable to their own workplace and address them together in developing their SWMS.

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