Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) include injuries of joints or other tissues in the back, shoulders, and wrists, but can be relevant to the lower body as well.
Conditions include general back pain, damaged spinal discs, sprains and strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow.
Although not fatal, MSDs result in misery for many. In UK manufacturing, around half of working days lost to ill‑health are caused by MSDs. The HSE estimate that the annual cost to the economy is around £2 billion.
The HSE are clear about one thing: providing manual handling training as the only means of control is not acceptable. People will use the wrong lifting technique if the workplace is designed badly, if the right equipment is not provided, or if they are under pressure to get work done too quickly.
If you work in food manufacturing, in preparation for an HSE visit you should review your risk assessments and make sure they are up-to-date (and dated!). Here are some questions the HSE might ask – are you happy with the answers you can give?
1. Have you risk assessed all relevant tasks?
The HSE will focus on the tasks they know tend to cause MSDs. In particular, inspectors will look at:
- Stacking and unstacking containers (such as boxes, crates, and sacks)
- Moving wheeled racks (oven racks, roll cages, and trolleys)
- Packing products
- Cutting, boning, jointing, trussing, and evisceration of meat and poultry
2. Have you identified all significant hazards?
You can get ahead of the HSE by using the same tools that they use to identify hazardous handling. The HSE website provides access to four tools that the HSE use, depending on the type of task:
- If a task involves pushing and pulling (eg of wheeled racks) use the “Risk Assessment for Pushing and Pulling” (RAPP)
- If lifting and carrying loads that are about the same weight, use the “Manual Handling Assessment Charts” (MAC)
- If lifting and carrying loads where the weights vary a lot more, use the “Varied Manual Handling Assessment Charts” (VMAC)
- If the task involves repetitive movements (such as packing products) use the “Assessment of Repetitive Tasks” (ART)
Using the right tool will show the HSE that you understand the nature of the task people are undertaking. These assessments will point you towards changes you can make to reduce the risk at source.
3. Have you put appropriate controls in place?
Your risk assessments need to show that you have designed out the handling risks where this is practicable and reduced those that remain through job design, workplace layout, and equipment.
Consider a task where a heavy load is lifted off the floor, carried a long distance, up some steps, and then put on a high shelf in a cramped storage area where the handler has to twist and reach at the same time. Consider the following improvements:
- Eliminate – could you replace the main part of the task with a conveyor belt? This might also improve productivity and so could pay for itself.
- Redesign the work environment – why is the load on the floor? Could it be directly on a trolley? Can a scissor lift be provided to get the trolley up the stairs? A ramp might work, but think about how steep it would be. Use RAPP to make sure you’re not replacing a lifting hazard with a pushing hazard. Can the storage area be re-organised so the handler doesn’t have to twist and reach at the same time?
- Work design – where risks remain, can these be shared out so that people have time to rest in between heavy handling tasks with lighter work? Although training should not be the first control you think of, you should be able to provide records of training specific to the equipment being used and the loads being manoeuvred. A previous blog explained the expensive and painful consequences of not doing this.
4. Are your controls monitored?
If you provide trolleys or other equipment to reduce the burden of carrying, or pulleys and levers to manoeuvre heavy objects you need to be able to present records to show that appropriate inspection and maintenance of that equipment has taken place.
Is that it?
Although the focus of the HSE food manufacturing sector programme is on occupational lung disease and MSD, don’t imagine they will be turning a blind eye to other hazards.
They have a “background” list of major concerns which they look out for in all workplaces. These include fire and explosion, legionella, pressure vessels, structural issues, construction, and confined spaces.
A health and safety management software can go a long way to helping you to prepare for HSE inspections. EcoOnline's risk assessment module can help you to safeguard employees and be inspection-ready. If you are interested in finding out more, request a demo today.