Manual handling includes a wide variety of activities such as lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying loads and objects within the work place. Manual handling is the handling of loads (including people), i.e by human effort, as opposed to mechanical handling by crane, lift trucks etc. The effort may be applied directly or indirectly by hauling on a rope or pulling on a lever. Introducing mechanical assistance, for example, a powered hoist, may reduce but not eliminate manual handling since human effort is still required to move, steady or position the load. Manual handling related injuries can occur in almost any workplace, particularly where there is heavy manual labour, working in awkward positions, repetitive movements of arms, legs and back. These injuries can have serious implications for the person who is injured and for the employer.

Manual Handling disorders are injuries caused to the muscles and back that are work related, causing one or more of the Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). Symptoms include:

  • Pain, numbness & tingling
  • Muscle spasms, cramping and stiffness
  • Pain in the back or buttocks
  • Symptoms of nerve root pressure including leg pain, sciatica
  • Numbness or weakness in one leg
  • Symptoms of arthritis – pain and stiffness
  • Reduced worker productivity
  • Lost time from work, temporary or a permanent disability
  • Inability to perform job tasks

MSDs cover any injury, damage or disorder to the joints of the upper/lower limbs or the back. Work-related MSDs develop over time and can also result from fractures sustained in an accident. The total number of MSD cases in 2011/12 was 439 000 out of a total 1073 000 for all work-related illnesses. There has been a reduction in MSDs over the last 10 years.

Manual handling was reported to be the main cause of musculoskeletal disorders, followed by awkward working positions and keyboard work. MSDs can be broken down into (i) Back disorders (ii) Upper limb disorders (ULDs) and (iii) Lower limb disorders (LLDs).

(i) Back Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders affecting the back are a common work-related complaint. Since 2001/02 there has been a reduction in the estimated prevalence of work-related back disorders from 295 000 to 176 000 in 2011/12. Back disorders mainly occur in the construction and human health activities sectors.

Causes of back disorders

  • Manual handling (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling) – the main cause
  • Working in awkward or tiring positions
  • Keyboard work, assembly of small and large parts
  • Age and gender
  • The reported cases were higher for males than females and the age group 16-34 significantly less than the other age groups as reported in 2011/12.

(ii) Upper Limb Disorders (ULDs)

ULDs affect the arms, from fingers to shoulder, and the neck.

Causes of Upper Limb Disorders

  • Manual handling (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling) – the main cause
  • Keyboard work and repetitive actions
  • Working in awkward and tiring positions

The highest reports of ULDs is the human health activities, followed by construction and manufacturing operatives

(iii) Lower Limb Disorders (LLDs)

LLDs affect the legs and feet, i.e. from the hips to the toes

Causes of Lower Limb Disorders

  • Manual handling (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling) – a high risk factor
  • the risks are increased when lifting is done simultaneously with knee bending, kneeling or squatting
  • Climbing stairs and ladders and standing in the same position, as in conveyor factory work
  • There is an increased risk of LLD for workers in occupations that include tasks that strain the lower limbs such as fire fighters, farmers, construction workers, carpet and tilling layers, minors and factory workers

Common manual handling injuries

The lower back. Muscle and tendon sprains. This is due to lifting and carrying boxes, equipment, handling people etc. The upper back can also be affected
The Shoulder/arm. Muscle and tendon strains. This is mainly due to handling people
The knees. Muscle and tendon sprains. Mainly due to slips and falls, squatting can cause strain here also
Ankles, neck, wrists and elbows. Injuries to these areas are due to a combination of manual tasks, handling people, slips, handling machinery and equipment

Sources   hse website

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