School operations

Manual Handling

Identifying and assessing the risks of hazardous manual handling

Hazardous manual handling is recognised by the department as an activity that has a high risk of causing injury. Because of this, hazardous manual handling is a mandated risk on the OHS risk register and therefore must be managed by schools.

Manual handling tasks in a school can include, but are not limited to:

  • office administration involving data entry and moving boxes for archiving
  • carrying many books or classroom equipment
  • work on laptops or tablets (refer to the Ergonomics and Workspace policy)
  • personal care of students (refer to the Health Care Needs policy)
  • moving gym equipment or classroom furniture
  • gardening and school maintenance
  • teaching in a squatting, kneeling or bent over position
  • pushing and pulling wheelchairs or trolleys.

The principal or their delegate must identify potentially hazardous manual handling tasks and activities undertaken in their school, in consultation with school staff who are or are likely to be affected, and health and safety representatives (HSR), where elected. Hazards can be identified through workplace inspections, discussions regarding tasks and staff concerns, reviewing injury records and eduSafe Plus data.

Approaches to assessing manual handling tasks

The Risk Matrix

All school staff can use the risk matrix as a guide where needed for a quick assessment of a hazard prior to completing a task. See the ‘Risk matrix’ tab in the OHS risk register template (XLSX)External Link .

The TILE approach

The acronym TILE provides another way of quickly assessing a task before completing it, or before asking others to complete it, to ensure we keep everyone safe in the workplace.

Manual handling tasks can be considered as a combination of 4 components – Task, Individual, Load and Environment. The acronym TILE can be used to understanding how these 4 components interact, to help determine if a manual handling task or activity is hazardous and the level of risk is poses.

Task – what is the job or activity that will be undertaken?

The frequency and duration of a task contributes to the risk a school staff member has of becoming injured. Tasks that continue over a long duration or are repeated over the workday increase the risk of injury. As a general guideline, long duration means the task is done for more than a total of 2 hours over the workday or continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Looking at a single task a person might perform may not provide enough information to assess the risk of injury. The principal or their delegate and relevant school staff need to consider the person’s entire role and the combination of tasks and activities they perform day to day.

When assessing the task, you may consider the following questions:

  • What is the task?
  • Is there any way the person can avoid doing this task?
  • Will they need to stoop, stretch, twist or reach?
  • How long will this take? Will they be in the same position for long?
  • Does the task involve repetitive or strenuous movements?
Individual – which person or persons will undertake the task?

It is important to consider the individual and their capacity to undertake manual tasks. This information can help to understand their suitability for the task or activity.

When assessing the individual, you may consider the following questions:

  • Do they have the physical capacity to undertake the task?
  • Is more than one person/s required?
  • Is the person familiar with the task?
  • Is there any equipment available that can support this task?
  • Is training required and has it been undertaken – for example, training in the use of specialised equipment, such as a hoist?
  • Do they have any previous or existing injuries that may be exacerbated by the task?
  • Is supervision required?
  • Are the tasks or combination of tasks they perform regularly taken into account?
  • Are there supports or adjustments in other areas of their work?
Load – what characteristics need to be considered?

Consider the load or item that is being moved or interacted with. It is important to understand the load so that appropriate mechanical aids or supports can be investigated, purchased and used. Load is important and consideration for how the load will be moved is paramount.

When assessing the load, consider the following questions:

  • Is the load heavy, large or awkward?
  • Is the load rigid, unstable or hard to grab?
  • Is the load fixed or moving?
  • In which direction and for what distance does the load need to be moved?
  • Is there repeated exposure to loading or force?

WorkSafe Victoria’s manual handling compliance codeExternal Link does not prescribe weight limits because whether work involves hazardous manual handling does not depend solely on the weight of the load. It also depends on the postures, movements, forces and weight of the load involved in the work and the frequency and duration of the work.

Environment – how will the surrounding areas effect the task?

It is important to consider the environmental factors where the task is being performed. The environment can create complications or additional risk that may need to be accounted for.

When assessing the environment, consider the following questions:

  • What is the space that the task will occur in?
  • Does the task occur in or between various locations?
  • Is the surface condition even and stable?
  • Does the task involve vibration (for example, vibration from power tools)?
  • Are there any trip hazards?
  • Is the temperature and ventilation appropriate?
  • Is there enough lighting?

Risk assessment templates

If there is further uncertainty or a lack of understanding about a manual handling task, and the risk is likely to be high or extreme based on the quick assessments above, a more formal risk assessment should be undertaken. The department has provided a manual handling risk assessment template for schools, which uses the TILE approach outlined above to prompt a thorough assessment of a manual handling task. This assessment can be completed by individual staff, the principal or delegate, or together.

Sample risk assessments have been designed as generic guides to assist schools in assessing common manual handling risks including when developing a student support plan.

These include:

Where a high or extreme hazardous manual handling task has been identified using the assessment processes above, a Safe Work Procedure (SWP) (DOCX)External Link can be developed and displayed adjacent to where the hazardous manual handling task is to be carried out. Where a SWP is displayed, school staff may be required to be further trained to undertake the task documented in the SWP.

Once hazardous manual handling tasks have been identified and assessed the OHS risk register should be updated accordingly. Please refer to the OHS Risk Planning and Management policy for further information on updating, reviewing and maintaining the OHS risk register.

The OHS Advisory Service and regional OHS support officers can provide tailored advice and assistance with manual handling risk assessments and the development of SWPs.

Includes approaches to assessing manual handling tasks

Reviewed 12 October 2023

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