Reducing injury risk if you’re a manual worker

Ergonomist at Bupa UK
25 January 2017

If you’ve heard of ergonomics you probably think of desk assessments, sitting properly, fancy office chairs and computer mice. This is the area of ergonomics that most people are aware of. But ergonomists aren’t only interested in office workers. They can help you if you’re in a manual job too. If you want to know more, read on!

A man in safety gear working in a factory

What is a manual job?

When we refer to a manual job, this usually means you carry out tasks which require you to lift, lower, push, pull, hold or carry objects. These can be jobs in factories, warehouses, kitchens or supermarkets, to name a few.

If you have a manual job, you’re at greater risk of having problems with your muscles, joints and bones. These problems most commonly affect your back, but you may also experience discomfort in your arms, shoulder or neck. Maintaining a good posture, using moving and handling tools, and avoiding repetitive movements can help to reduce the risk.

It’s also important to warm up your muscles before you jump straight into lifting activities. A few gentle stretches to warm your muscles up before work may help to reduce your risk of injury. An athlete wouldn’t risk injury by going to compete without warming up first, and neither should you!

How can you prevent injury?

Whatever environment you work in, it’s really important that you think about the tasks you’re doing and how you do them. Do you have to stretch, twist your body or get into awkward positions to carry out activities? If so, why not step back and ask yourself, “how could I do this differently?” Here are a few basic tips to get you thinking.

Things to consider when lifting

  • Assess the load; consider how heavy it is before you attempt to lift it.
  • Always bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting from low levels.
  • Keep the load close to your body and keep your elbows tucked in by your sides.
  • If there are no handles or grips, think about how you’re going to lift the load safely – do you need someone to help you?
  • Avoid twisting your body when lifting or lowering.
  • Remember to consider the path you’re going to take. Do you need to clear the way before you start moving? When you reach your destination, is there somewhere safe to place the load?
  • Can you use moving and handling tools to reduce manual handling? Some examples may be using a trolley or ‘sack truck’.
  • When using a trolley or similar, try to push rather than pull and use your body weight and leg muscles to do the work.

General good practice

  • Are your work tools easy to access? If not, rearrange your workspace to avoid having to overreach. Things you know you need to access often should be close to you.
  • Where possible, use mechanical aids to help to carry out heavy tasks.
  • When storing items, avoid placing heavy items above shoulder height. Ideally place them at waist height.
  • Avoid repetitive tasks where possible. If you do need to repeat the same activity a lot in a short space of time, try to rotate your tasks so you’re using different muscles and joints.
  • Do you work at a work bench? Can you work with your arms at a comfortable height? If not, consider working on a higher surface.
  • If you’re at a work bench and seated, some tasks might be easier and put less strain on your body if you stand. Give it a go and see how it feels.

Roy Cochran-Patel
Ergonomist at Bupa UK

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