Manual lifting and carrying are a risk to employees’ health and work ability
Manual lifting and carrying of heavy loads are still routine in many workplaces, such as in the industrial sector, construction sites, the transport sector, retail, agriculture and nursing. Heavy physical workload increases the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and can also put a strain on employees’ respiratory and cardiovascular system. Handling heavy loads also increases the risk of accidental injury. In many cases, heavy physical work contributes to early retirement.
The law does not set weight limits for lifting. The risks posed by the handling of heavy loads always need to be examined holistically, as weight is only one factor. The magnitude of the risk depends on
- the weight and shape of the load
- the employee’s hold on the load
- the positioning of the load relative to the employee’s body
- the employee’s posture during lifting
- the number of lifting manoeuvres and repetitions
- the distance by which the load needs to be carried
- the work environment, and
- personal characteristics of the employee.
The harmful effects of manual lifting and carrying can be mitigated
The design of the work environment, work equipment and procedures has a big impact on workload. The order of work tasks and procedures must be planned so as to minimise the need for heavy lifting and carrying. If heavy lifting and carrying cannot be avoided altogether, employees must be provided with lifting and moving equipment or other assistive devices to lower their workloads.
It is not always possible to avoid manual lifting and carrying, and there are some manoeuvres that cannot be facilitated by means of assistive devices. In such cases, it is the employer’s duty to ensure that employees are given adequate training and instruction on safe procedures as well as the risks associated with incorrect lifting and carrying techniques. Employers can ask their occupational health care provider to help analyse the risks and train employees.