Two people lifting heavy box in warehouse

How to prevent work-related injuries when manually handling goods

Health, Safety & Ergonomics

Logistics, warehousing, manufacturing – and other industries where material handling plays an important part – unfortunately rank among the most dangerous in terms of non-fatal injuries and ill health.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), injuries are most commonly caused by overexertion while handling materials, followed by falls, slips and trips. In most cases, the risk of such injuries could be greatly reduced, or even completely eliminated. When done right, this will not only improve staff health and job satisfaction, but also a facility’s efficiency and bottom line.

Common causes of work-related injuries

The definition of a work-related injury is any injury or illness caused or significantly aggravated by events in the workplace. In the United States alone, the total cost of injuries due to work-related accidents and other events adds up to more than $170 billion, according to the NSC. Medical expenses make up part of this figure, but the productivity losses and administrative expenses are even larger. According to Libery Mutual, disabling workplace injuries cost businesses more than $59 billion per year.

According to NSC statistics, the most common work-related injury events causing lost workdays are:

  1. Overexertion from lifting, lowering and repetitive motions account for more than a third (33.5%) of the total amount of injuries.
  2. Contact with objects and equipment, such as being struck by or caught between materials, is the second most common type of injury (26%).
  3. Slips, trips and falls are almost as common, making up 25.8% of the total.

The resulting injuries caused by these events are most frequently sprains, strains or tears, soreness or pain, and cuts, lacerations or punctures. In the private sector, most injuries occur in the logistics, manufacturing, construction and maintenance/repair industries.

How can work-related injuries be prevented?

 The most effective way to reduce the significant human and economic costs of workplace injuries is preventing that they happen in the first place. But where to start? All businesses and logistics facilities differ to some extent and will require unique approaches. However, many will benefit from these general preventative strategies:

  • Ensure adequate training: Insufficient training in how to safely operate equipment, machinery and vehicles is the root cause of many accidents. Always make sure that staff members who operate potentially hazardous equipment have the right training to do so. A high safety standard also needs to be cultivated by management staff and kept up to date.
  • Develop a safety plan – and use it: A safety plan is essential for injury prevention and a safe working environment. It should be based on an assessment of potentially hazardous procedures at an individual facility and ensure compliance with industry regulations. The safety plan may include elements such as rules and checklists for operating equipment, procedures for reporting hazardous behavior or practices, emergency response instructions and other relevant guidelines.
  • Investigate and follow up on safety vulnerabilities: Again, all businesses face different sets of safety challenges. An example of a vulnerability could be a specific procedure or situation where accidents are common. Investigate the cause of the accidents and develop a strategy to prevent them from happening.
  • Prevent risky behavior: Accidents are much more likely to occur in a workplace where employees push themselves too hard, perhaps taking shortcuts to improve output. While it’s natural to encourage creativity and productivity boosts, this must never compromise safety. Find ways to emphasize that the company is better off when employees stay safe and healthy rather than taking unnecessary risks.
  • Use protective equipment: If required by the working environment, provide and enforce the use of personal protective equipment such as hard hats, face protection, safety shoes and earmuffs – and take time to train employees on how to properly use them.
  • Safety maintenance of equipment and vehicles: Unperformed maintenance of equipment and vehicles is both costly and a common cause of severe accidents. Implementing a policy to ensure that vehicles and other equipment, including powered material handling solutions, are serviced at their recommended intervals is an important safety measure.
  • Supervise and support employees: All employees should have quick access to a supervisor if they have questions. Supervision will also ensure that employees perform the right tasks, which helps avoid uncertainty and unnecessary risk-taking. This is particularly important at large facilities, where staff members are not always aware of each other’s roles.
  • Provide the right tools and equipment: Repetitive or heavy manual handling of materials is often the cause of not only exhaustion, but also work-related back injuries, shoulder pain, wrist pain and other debilitating issues. Using vacuum lifters, hoists, cranes, conveyor systems and other handling equipment will greatly reduce the risk of injuries.

Ergonomics is essential for workplace injury prevention

Logistics and manufacturing facilities often emphasize accident prevention, which of course is highly important. However, it is also important not to overlook the role of industrial ergonomics in work-related injury prevention. Poor ergonomics is a very common cause of severe and long-term injuries that will inevitably affect employee health and productivity.

As previously noted, more than a third of work-related injuries are due to overexertion from moving, lifting, lowering and repetitive motions – all of which relate to ergonomics.

What is industrial ergonomics?

Industrial ergonomics studies how to design and use industrial equipment in ways that do not damage the workers’ health. It can also be explained as adapting the man-machine interface and/or working procedures to suit natural human body movements.

In comparison, office ergonomics typically focuses on details like wrist support, chair and monitor adjustments, sitting position or the type of keyboard used. All of these factors are fairly easy to adjust at a minor expense. The opposite often applies in industrial ergonomics, where advanced equipment is typically needed to assist with e.g. heavy lifting or assembly procedures.

In other words, providing workers with the equipment they need to work ergonomically in an industrial setting often requires sizeable investments. But these investments come with major advantages in terms of happier and healthier employees, as well as considerable productivity improvements when making the right choices.

Safety hazards in manual material handling – and solutions to prevent them

Many ergonomic hazards in material handling are due to heavy or incorrectly performed manual handling. Lifting heavy objects causes strain and exhaustion that may lead to back pain, as do twisting and jarring motions when lifting.

Education in ergonomically correct lifting techniques is an important first step in mitigating the risk of injury and is equally important when using lifting equipment. It will however not come close to eliminating the risks associated with manual handling.

A proactive solution to many ergonomic hazards is to minimize manual handling as much as possible. Employing a tailored vacuum lifting and handling solution, will help:

  • Greatly reduce staff exhaustion by eliminating most of the effort needed to lift heavy loads.
  • Reduce stress on back and shoulders, which is otherwise a central cause of acute and long-term injury.
  • Facilitate easy staff rotation. Since anyone can now lift heavy goods, streamlined staff rotation will mitigate the risks of work-related injuries caused by repetitive tasks.
  • Reduce twisting and bending motions – vacuum lifters may be built for effortless tilting and swiveling.

Other than the major ergonomic benefits and reduced risk of accidents, vacuum lifters also considerably reduce cycle times. TAWI’s bespoke lifting solutions can be complemented with tools to suit any workflow. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today to take the first steps in reducing the risks of work-related injuries in your facility.

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