Manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)
What you need to do
Construction activities that involve manual handling present a significant risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and must be considered fully with action taken on three fronts:
- Avoidance – the law says you must decide how to avoid manual handling tasks that involve a risk of injury;
- Action – where avoidance is not possible, you must make an assessment of your manual handling tasks and take steps to reduce the risk of injury; and
- Information – those people who carry out the manual handling must be provided with information on the weight of each load, and the heaviest side of any load whose centre of gravity is not positioned centrally.
A manual handling assessment must be reviewed if there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in the manual handling operations.
What you need to know
A musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is an injury that affects the muscles, joints, tendons or spinal discs. Such injuries are most likely to affect the back, shoulders and neck, and legs. Symptoms may include pain, aching, discomfort, numbness, tingling and swelling.
Workers who suffer from MSDs may have a reduced ability to do tasks, as well as pain or discomfort, and the most serious cases can result in permanent disability.
The construction industry has one of the highest rates of MSD.Typical construction activities that can cause injury are:
- Manual handling – the biggest cause of injury is manual handling, which includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying;
- Repetitive tasks – handling heavy objects is not the only cause of injury. Harm can also result from doing a task repetitively, even if the load is relatively light (e.g. bricklaying), or where the person’s body position is less than ideal (e.g. tying rebar); and
- Other high risk tasks – include: block laying, handling pipework, laying kerbs and paving slabs, moving and installing plasterboard and installing mechanical and electrical equipment at height.
Who is at risk?
MSDs and back pain occur in many construction trades. Workers commonly affected include bricklayers, scaffolders, groundworkers, electricians and demolition workers, as well as general labourers.
Managing the risks
The first priority is to avoid the hazard. Where this is not reasonably practicable you need to assess risks and take effective action.
The overall process of managing the risks of MSD involves five simple stages:
Top tips for safer manual handling on smaller sites:
- Prevent unnecessary lifting and carrying. Position loads by machine and plan where they need to be put;
- Avoid heavy materials that could cause problems if they need to be moved by hand. Choose lighter materials, order smaller bags of cement and aggregates. Keep materials such as concrete blocks dry;
- Use simple mechanical aids and make sure they are kept well maintained;
- Make sure workers are trained to use lifting equipment and other aids safely;
- Consider the size, strength and training of those needed for those doing the lifting;
- Hire lifting equipment to lighten the load; and
- Avoid repetitive lifting, handling heavy building blocks or other masonry units and installing heavy lintels by hand.