Manual material handling tasks can sometimes expose workers to risk factors that eventually turn into costly injuries and lost productivity. Following are five tips for smarter and safer work performance.
According to NIOSH, “manual material handling (MMH) work contributes to a large percentage of the over half a million cases of musculoskeletal disorders reported annually in the United States.”
In other words, manual material handling tasks can become a major problem if you don’t take proactive measures to reduce injury risk in your workplace.
The good news is that these injuries are preventable. Follow these five tips and action steps to reduce risk in your workplace.
1. Reduce workplace risk factors with ergonomics
Ergonomic risk factors are commonly found in the manual material handling environment.
Ergonomic risk factors are problems with the work environment that cause unnecessary physical fatigue. The three primary ergonomic risk factors are:
- Awkward postures (bending, twisting)
- Highly repetitive motions (frequent reaching, lifting, carrying)
- Forceful exertions (carrying or lifting heavy loads)
A proactive ergonomics improvement process ensures that jobs and tasks are within the worker’s physical capabilities. It’s about identifying these ergonomic risk factors in your work environment and putting control measures in place to limit exposure.
This process is the foundation for preventing back injuries for manual material handling tasks. An ergonomically designed work environment reduces fatigue and discomfort for workers. This, in turn, limits the risk of an injury occurring.
Next action: Learn how to identify ergonomic risk factors by conducting objective ergonomics assessments. Click here to download step-by-step guides to our recommended ergonomic assessments tools.
2. Make sure team members are ready to work with a Pre-Shift Warm-up program
Manual material handling tasks require workplace athletes to be ready for their workday. For example, what is the last thing Peyton Manning does before he takes the field on Sundays?
He goes through his pre-game stretching and warm-up routine to prepare his body and mind for the game. It’s the final ritual in his preparation for work, and he never misses it. Neither do any of his teammates or other teams around the league. They would never miss their pre-game stretching and warm-up routine.
Workplace athletes prepare themselves for work in a similar way with “pre-shift stretching” or “pre-shift warm-up stretching”. They take a few minutes before they begin their work day by preparing their body and mind for work with a pre-shift warm-up routine.
Well-designed workplace stretching programs (Work Readiness Systems) ensure workplace athletes are physically ready for their work day.
Next action: Ready to learn more about the benefits of a workplace stretching program? Not sure where to get started or what actually works? Click here to download our guide to pre-shift workplace stretching and warm-up programs.
3. Make sure team members use proper body mechanics and work technique
By definition, manual material handling tasks require workers to handle materials using their body. As workplace athletes it’s important they use their bodies properly, using good biomechanics and work technique.
When workplace athletes use poor body mechanics and work technique, they introduce unnecessary MSD risk. By educating workers to use better body mechanics and spending the necessary time out on the shop floor to make sure they’re getting the job done properly, you are greatly reducing the MSD risk in your workplace.
Next action: Grab a free copy of our proper lifting techniques handout (and over 50 other ergonomics and injury prevention education handouts for workplace athletes). Click here to download your workplace athlete handouts.
4. Educate team members on self-care
Physical wear and tear on the body is a normal part of the aging process. Every day, we go through the process of fatigue and then recovery. Each day we fatigue the body. Each night we sleep as the body’s natural process to recover from the day.
Well, with manual material handling workers, it’s as important as ever to know how to recover from each workday. Manual material handling tasks are physically demanding on the body and require and above average process in place to recover from the day.
Workplace athletes that do a great job at self-care are able to recover from each workday and minimize the risk of an MSD from forming.
The only way your workplace athletes will know how to properly care for themselves and recover from each workday is if you educate and train themselves on self-care tools and techniques.
Next action: Download a free copy of our team member wellness curriculum, Building Wellness from the Inside Out.
5. Proactively respond to early reports of fatigue and discomfort
As we just covered in the previous section, fatigue and physical wear and tear is a normal part of the aging process. In manual material handling tasks, there will be additional fatigue and discomfort that is just a natural part of life under these circumstances. Even with a proactive ergonomics process that makes sure the work fits the workers’ capabilities, this work day in and day out can take a toll on the workplace athlete’s body.
Because cumulative fatigue will eventually turn into an MSD, it’s important to encourage early reports of fatigue and discomfort so you can proactively respond and put control measures in place to prevent fatigue from developing into an injury.
Next action: The earlier you discover signs of fatigue and discomfort, the better. That way you can actually do something about fatigue and discomfort before it develops into an injury that requires medical treatment. Start encouraging early reports and when you receive them, respond quickly and with enthusiasm.
Manual material handling work doesn’t have to mean more injuries
Injuries in manual material handling environment are absolutely preventable. Follow the five action steps above and make progress toward a safer and more productive work environment today.
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