As an employer, we have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for our staff. The challenge is that providing a safe workplace includes many and varied factors, ranging from physical safety, social safety and mental health and wellbeing. These issues can often be inter-related, for example, a physical injury at work can lead to downtime for that worker, creating mental health and wellbeing issues which have an impact on family life and other social safety issues outside of work. As the boundaries between work and home life blur, employers are having increasingly more responsibility to provide leadership about the health and wellbeing of their people.
The recent COVID-19 situation has further blurred those boundaries due to remote working arrangements. Compliance within our regular place of work is challenging at the best of times, however, when we stop to think about what has happened with COVID-19, an office of 50 staff in a central business district location has now shifted overnight to 50 remote offices, called ‘home’.
What do we need to fix first?
This question opens a whole other conversation about risk assessments and risk management and reporting. Instead, let’s spend just five minutes to google search what is the cause of most workplace injuries… You will find that manual handling is right up there amongst some of the highest causes of workplace injuries. In fact, it is reported as more than one-third of all workplace injuries in Australia. As you dig further, you will find that this same metric is consistent across other countries such as New Zealand, USA, Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa. You will also find that such injuries are equally, if not more relevant to a home office. Let’s face it, if we can’t get manual handling and office ergonomics to 100% in our normal place of work, and now we have our employees working from their bedrooms and living room tables on 1,678,938 different combinations and variations of desk heights, types of chairs, computer monitors, and other manual handling distractions and risks that come up in a normal day from working at home!
What is a manual handling injury?
As you explore further, you will find that many of the workplace injuries from manual handling do not happen immediately, they fester over time, through inappropriate manual handling practices and the absence of appropriate risk assessment and reporting. This is not isolated to specific job roles or industry sectors, instead, it is consistent for every workplace from an office worker to the factory, and mining and construction sites. It includes things such as incorrect manual handling for physical activities that cause strain on the body, bad posture, improper lifting techniques, all which cause gradual and unnecessary stress on the body. For those who like to investigate, check out ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ and you’ll become an expert overnight!
“Manual handling causes more than one-third of all workplace injuries and is applicable to all jobs and industry sectors in Australia”
Regardless of how much we know about manual handling, the facts are clear, if we spent a little more time educating our employees and providing feedback on safe practices for manual handling, we could significantly reduce workplace injuries.
What does work health and safety legislation say?
Work health and safety legislation for all states and territories in Australia makes it clear that manual handling activities that represent significant risk should be avoided, automated or mechanised wherever possible. In the case of manual handling, that means that an employer must avoid the need for hazardous manual handling operations wherever possible. For this reason, employers have extensive workplace policies and procedures that extend work health and safety requirements to all forms of manual handling and office ergonomics. However, what is often missing is the education and training to create awareness and teach safe practices for manual handling and related activities, in a broad sense and aligned to specific job roles.
What can you do to help avoid injury due to manual handling?
When it comes to work health and safety requirements, best practise is to undertake risk assessments for the workplace and the different job roles and to build out appropriate training regimes, policies and procedures, as well as monitoring and reporting requirements. However, as a first step, it is good to look at training and policies that would apply to every organisation as a baseline for prevention. In other words, what is common sense compliance training and policy management that every business needs to have in place?
Organisations such as Sentrient, who is Australia’s #1 online compliance system and training provider for small and medium businesses, provide compliance training for Work Health and Safety, and other workplace relations and safety topics such as privacy, bullying, harassment and discrimination.
A legally endorsed Work Health and Safety course will address your minimum requirements as required by law and you can then take further steps to address other core areas of safety such as manual handling. The value of online learning is that you can get a consistent message and have the training available when an employee starts with your organisation and that it can be delivered as refresher training on an ongoing basis. Such training combined with your organisational policies are the best way to demonstrate that you are taking all reasonable steps to create a healthy and safe workplace.