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Hazardous manual tasks

A hazardous manual task is one that requires someone to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing; involving one or more of the following:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration.

These hazards directly stress the body and can lead to an injury.

Health and physical hazards

Hazardous manual tasks may cause:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • back injuries
  • joint and bone injuries or degeneration
  • soft tissue injuries including hernias
  • chronic pain.

You can injure yourself through:

  • gradual wear and tear caused by repeated or continuous use of the same body parts, and/or
  • sudden damage caused by strenuous activity, or unexpected movements (for example when a load you’re handling moves or changes position suddenly).

These are the most common workplace injuries across Tasmania.

PCBU responsibilities

If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the risks to health and safety associated with hazardous manual tasks. This includes:

  • identifying the hazardous manual tasks in your workplace
  • controlling the risks associated with these hazardous manual tasks
  • providing your workers with information, training, instruction and supervision to workers.

Controlling risks

You should do a risk assessment for the hazardous manual tasks at your workplace, to:

  • identify which workers are at risk
  • determine what tasks, postures, equipment, objects or other workplace factors are causing that risk
  • determine how likely it is that an injury or incident will occur, how serious it would be
  • identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented
  • check the effectiveness of your existing control measures.

Look at any past injuries, illnesses and near miss information, too.

You must always aim to remove a hazardous manual task from your workplace first. If this is not reasonably practicable, you must reduce the risk by using one or more of the following approaches:

  • substitution: for example, replacing heavy bags of product with ones that are smaller, lighter and/or easier to handle
  • isolation: for example, using mobile plant with separate seating, if the plant vibrates
  • implementing engineering controls: for example, using mechanical lifting trolleys.

If a risk then remains, you must reduce it by implementing administrative controls (for example, job rotation and safe work procedures), so far as is reasonably practicable. Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).

Solutions

The solutions you should consider depend on the work done at your workplace. Are you stacking products on shelves? Transferring patients from beds? Moving unpredictable items like animals? Working in an awkward position? Options may include:

  • using mechanical aids that help your workers move, lift or carry items. Options include conveyors, cranes and hoists, trolleys, forklifts or lift tables, depending on your work tasks. Provide training so they know how to use these correctly
  • ordering items in small and lighter sizes that can be easily carried, or in much larger sizes and weights so workers must use mechanical aids to move them
  • changing the layout of your workspace to reduce awkward postures or moves
  • rotating jobs so workers aren’t doing one repetitive task for too long
  • setting realistic work rates that take into account the physical demands of the task
  • putting frequently used tools, materials or controls in front of the worker, close to their midline, and within comfortable reaching distance
  • locating delivery and storage areas close to the work areas when items will be used
  • having regular breaks to do some simple exercises that fight fatigue throughout the day.

Resources and solutions

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Hazardous manual tasks code of practice

Pause exercise poster (PDF, 205.1 KB)

Other resources

Hazardous manual handling resources by industry, task, hazard: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Australia: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Updated: 13th December 2019