Evidence says don’t rely on manual handling training as it doesn’t work

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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OHS benefits of motion sensors and contemporary anthropometry

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.

The sub-dermal implants for OHS monitoring are yet to occur but the electronic collation of important health data has progressed to a high level of relevance. This not only involves measuring body stresses but the bodies themselves. Continue reading “OHS benefits of motion sensors and contemporary anthropometry”

OHS ROI pilot research in Queensland

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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Manual handling assessment process from Australia has merit

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.

Kevin Jones

Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”?

The Victorian Workcover Authority’s (VWA) WorkHealth program is coming to the end of its five-year life. But what is the way forward?  Has the $A600 million program achieved its aims?

Aims and Results

VWA’s annual report for 2008 (page 33) stated the following aims for WorkHealth, reiterated in the WorkHealth Strategic Framework 2010-12 (page 1):

“Over the long term, the program aims to:

  • cut the proportion of workers at risk of developing chronic disease by 10%
  • cut workplace injuries and disease by 5%, putting downward pressure on premiums
  • cut absenteeism by 10%.

These goals aim to drive productivity and reduce health expenditure that is associated with chronic disease.”

None of VWA’s annual reports since 2008 have included any mention of these benchmarks. Continue reading “Where to for the “the expensive and failed WorkHealth scheme”?”

Back support devices don’t work but new designs should be investigated

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.

However, there is a counter argument of the need to support innovation and the position of continuous improvement. Continue reading “Back support devices don’t work but new designs should be investigated”

OHS harmonisation documents released for public comment

Late on 7 December 2010 Safe Work Australia released draft OHS regulations and Codes of Practice for public comment.  The documents released are:

According to a Safe Work Australia media release, not yet available online:

“As part of the development of the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), Access Economics on behalf of Safe Work Australia, is surveying businesses across a range of sizes, industries and regions in an effort to obtain data on anticipated compliance costs and safety benefits of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations.   Continue reading “OHS harmonisation documents released for public comment”

Australian OHS Awards need a review to stay relevant

Australia’s OHS awards season has concluded with many of the same challenges it had in 2009.

Most States have harmonised their awards categories so that the national OHS awards in March 2011 are fairer but the worth of some categories, listed below,  remains in question.

“Category 1: Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System

a. Private Sector

b. Public Sector

Category 2: Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue

Category 3: Best Workplace Health and Safety practice/s in Small Business

Category 4: Best Individual Contribution to Workplace Health and Safety

An employee, such as a health and safety representative

An outstanding contribution by an OHS manager or a person with responsibility for work health and safety as part of their duties”

The category of most concern is “Best OHS Management System”.  For several years many OHS and media people have asked “why should a company receive an award for what they should already be doing?” Continue reading “Australian OHS Awards need a review to stay relevant”

Global OHS statistics and trends

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 relationship between fatalities and other outcomes of work injuries and illnesses

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.

Kevin Jones

Takala J, Urrutia M, Hämäläinen P, Saarela KL. The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies. SJWEH Suppl. 2009;(7):15–23.