Controlling the risks
Once a hazardous manual handling task is identified and understood, the principal or delegate, in consultation with school staff who are or are likely to be affected and HSRs, where elected, must put controls in place to eliminate or reduce the level of risk (so far as reasonably practicable) associated with the manual handling task. Controlling the risk is all about removing or reducing the likelihood of injury.
A mixture of appropriate controls should be in place to prevent injuries to school staff from manual handling tasks. Using the OHS risk register will help identify if the control and measures taken reduce the level of risk to an acceptable level.
Redesigning the workplace, tasks and physical workspaces and seeking further training may be considered when identifying appropriate controls.
Workplace design considers how people, space and equipment or mechanical aids work together when undertaking hazardous manual handling tasks. A safe work environment is one that, where practicable, ensures:
- floors and ground surfaces in work areas, car parks and entrances are level, well lit, and in good condition
- ramps are in place which allow trolleys or wheelchairs to be moved about with ease
- support rails if needed are in bathrooms and shower areas to aid personal care
- desks or workstations are available, and workplace/station is set up ergonomically (refer to the for further information)
- equipment needed to undertake tasks is safely stored, convenient and close by
- the space or room the task will be undertaken in is suitable – for example, large enough for equipment or mechanical aids to be used safely.
Mechanical aids can make it easier and safer for staff to lift and move people and things by reducing the load. Mechanical aid controls may include:
- installing hoists, transfer benches, slings, and belts to move or assist students who require personal assistance or care
- procuring furniture and equipment which is designed for easy movement
- purchasing appropriate trolleys for moving heavy loads.
When using mechanical aids, trollies or wheelchairs it’s important to:
- stand close and lean forward when pushing
- push instead of pull, if possible, as it involves less work by the lower back muscles and allows for maximum use of body weight and clear vision in the direction of travel
- when pulling, lean backwards and avoiding twisting and turning.
If mechanical aids require installation they must be installed by a qualified person and maintained as per the manufacturer’s requirements. Where instructions for use and maintenance are required a Safe Work Procedure must be developed and displayed.
Good housekeeping includes day-to-day actions that make manual handling easier and safer, such as:
- ensuring floors and ground surfaces in work areas, car parks and entrances are clean and clear of obstacles
- storing heavy items at waist height (shelving weight limits must be known)
- storing smaller, lightweight, or infrequently used items in lower or higher areas
- reducing lifting items above shoulder height as it increases loading forces on the shoulder joint
- ensuring storage areas are not cluttered
- regularly observing the workplace in general, including day-to-day checks and undertaking quarterly workplace safety inspections, and resolving identified issues.
Task and work design
Consider a person’s role as a whole and the design of the tasks. Allow for variation in tasks so that they can do something different regularly. Task rotation and breaks on their own are not effective at reducing manual handling risks and must be used in conjunction with other controls, such as:
- when work is strenuous ensure frequent rest breaks
- change position frequently or limit time kneeling, squatting, twisting, working bent over or above shoulder height
- order ingredients and supplies in multiple, smaller units to reduce the weight for example, instead of 1 × 10 kg bag order 5 × 2 kg bags.
Team lifting may form a part of work design if mechanical aids are not appropriate and large items need to be lifted or moved. If team lifting is to be undertaken ensure:
- there are enough people
- all persons are of a similar size and strength
- there are no pre-existing injuries
- someone is in charge and coordinating the lift
- there is a plan, and it has been communicated to those involved, which considers the TILE components.
Ergonomic controls to keep in mind when undertaking manual handling tasks that involve lifting include:
- moving as close as possible to the object
- keeping feet about hip width apart
- keeping back straight and bending the knees to lower down
- securing your grip
- using your legs to lift the load avoiding twisting or jerking movements
- keeping your back straight, gazing forward and bending knees to place load down.
All school staff must complete the mandatory manual handling eLearning module on LearnEd as part of induction and every 2 years, which provides information on common manual handling tasks in department workplaces, how to assess tasks and how to report hazards, incidents and near misses.
It may be appropriate to engage specialists to implement training specific to school requirements, including for specific manual handling tasks, required lifting techniques or mechanical aids. This may include engaging occupational therapists, physiotherapists or occupational rehabilitation providers to undertake job task analysis or ergonomic assessments and develop training programs accordingly.
Controls implemented by schools, including training, must be documented in the schools OHS risk register by the principal or their delegate.
If there is uncertainty about a manual handling task, the manual handling risk assessment template can be used to understand the task, assess the level of risk and investigate controls. The principal or delegate can then make amendments to the OHS risk register as required.
Reviewed 12 October 2023