Everyone knows the safe lifting techniques – keep your back straight, keep the load close to your body and bend your knees – because they have done the proper training. Well scrap that training! According to new guidance from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ):
“The research evidence shows that providing lifting technique training is not effective in minimising the risk of injury from manual tasks.”
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Several years ago, at a workshop over the development of the next Australian National Strategy for occupational health and safety (OHS), participants were asked to forecast an issue that would appear or be useful in the next decade. I suggested sub-dermal implants that would record or transmit real-time health data. My suggestion was received with laughter and a little bit of horror.
Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) recently revealed some early research into the Return on Investment (ROI) of occupational health and safety (OHS) controls. (Thanks to a reader for pointing it out) According to its website:
“Recent pilot research in several Queensland organisations found clear evidence of the cost effectiveness of safety interventions, including:
an automatic shrink wrapping machine at Rexel’s Tingalpa distribution centre that had an ROI of around $1.82 for every $1 of costs, and a payback of upfront costs of less than three years
an ergonomics intervention at BP Wild Bean Cafés with an ROI of $2.74 for every $1 of costs and a payback within the first month
a workplace health and wellbeing program at Port of Brisbane that had an ROI of $1.58 for every $1 of costs and a payback of 15 months.”
None of this “pilot research” is publicly available so it is not possible to verify the data. (WHSQ has been contacted for further information for a follow up blog article)
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There has been little movement on the assessment and management of manual handling risks in Australia during the period of OHS/WHS harmonisation. Just an hour or so ago, Work Health and Safety Queensland released a video that outlines its manual handling assessment program PErforM – Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks.
A PErforM manual for trainers seems to have been around since February 2012 but the new video should create fresh interest in the program that is supported by a new handbook.
Manual handling risk assessments are one of the most difficult tasks for business and safety people but they can also be a safety task that offers the greatest financial and worker rewards. This initiative is a relatively new look at an old OHS problem.
In 2009 Australian OHS regulators made the definitive statement on the use of back belts. The guidance stated that:
Back belts don’t reduce the forces on the spine
Back belts don’t reduce the strain on muscles,tendons and ligaments
Back belts do nothing to reduce fatigue or to increase the ability to lift
Back belts are like holding your breath when lifting
Back belts can increase blood pressure and breathing rate
Back belts don’t reduce the chance of injury or reduce back pain.
This was a terrific example of evidence-based safety. But this does not mean that the use of back belts should not be reconsidered if there is new evidence or new back belt designs.
One SafetyAtWorkBlog reader has drawn our attention to a new type of back support, The Tolai All Purpose Back Support. In no way does this blog support this particular device. In fact, there is a strong argument against the widespread use of such devices as these may advocate the reliance on PPE (personal protective equipment) rather than a higher order of control, such as task redesign, which would result in a more sustainable solution.
It is very easy to forget that workplace health and safety is a global issue. The pressures of work and the daily OHS issues can constrict our perspective for so long that we are surprised when we are reminded that people work everywhere and are therefore in danger in some way.
An article (citation below) from the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health released online on 12 November 2009 is just one of those reminders that we need every so often. The article is called “The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies” and says
“We have estimated that globally there are 2.3 million deaths annually for reasons attributed to work.”
For the statistics junkies, the article goes on to report that 1.95 million of the annual deaths are due to illness and
“The average rate of disability and absence from work can be some 25% of the workforce in Europe.”
“The biggest causes of work-related illness in Europe are musculoskeletal diseases and psychosocial disorders (mental health)….”
“Work-related stress….affect(ed) an estimated 22% of EU workers in 2005…”
By looking at a variety of statistical records, the authors conclude that
“In the present political situation and serious economic downturn, legal measures need to be supplemented with economic justification and convincing arguments to reduce corner-cutting and avoid long-term disabilities, premature retirement, and corporate closures due to a poor work environment.”
The researchers advocate an integrated approach to managing safety in a workplace and list a “toolbox” of suggested areas. Many of these are already in place in many management systems.
This sort of global data is not going to change the management or operational practices in individual workplaces. That change will mostly come in response to site-specific events or initiatives. Governments need to know these statistics and trends so that they may plan strategic programs or structure their legislation but it is equally important for citizens and OHS professionals to be aware of this data for it is the citizens who hold governments accountable.