Handling of loads
In the European Union, about a third of workers are involved in manual handling of loads for the majority of their working time on a daily basis. Manual handling of loads means lifting, lowering, holding, carrying or pulling-pushing weights, either alone or by several workers at the same time.
The role of the employer is to assess and prevent the potential health risk associated with the handling of loads. The methodology for the assessment of health risks is provided in the annex to Regulation No. 26 of the Minister of Social Affairs of 27 February 2001 ‘Occupational Health and Safety Requirements for Manual Handling of Loads’ (available at https://www.riigiteataja.ee/aktilisa /0000/0008/4808/SOM_m26_lisa.pdf#). The assessment takes into account the weight of the load to be handled, the duration of the handling and the position of the body while performing the task), and the results of the assessment are explained in the annex.
The health risk assessment will determine whether it is necessary to introduce measures to make work easier. For example, if the health risk assessment shows that the workload is high and the physical overload also occurs for a physically strong employee, measures must be taken to reduce or prevent the health risks.
Employees can refuse the handling of loads if, despite the strict compliance with the instructions given by the employer, the work performed still proves to be too physically burdensome for the employee. The employee must inform their employer of the decision to refuse work.
Manual handling of loads may cause:
- damage to health caused by a gradual and worsening deterioration of the musculoskeletal condition due to constant lifting, such as lower back pain;
- serious injuries, such as accidental bruises or cuts, fractures.
- Back pain is the main work-related health complaint in the European Union (23.8%) with a significantly higher number of complaints from the workers of the new Member States (38.9%).
- Manual handling of loads is made dangerous by a number of risk factors that increase the risk of injury.
Handling of loads can pose a health risk if the load:
- is too heavy or bulky (there is no safe weight limit; for most people it is difficult to lift 20–25 kg) or it is not possible to follow the basic rules of lifting and carrying, i.e. keeping the weight as close to the body as possible, otherwise tiring muscles much faster;
- is shaped in a way that is not good for gripping: more muscle strength is needed to grip, bend or turn the body with outstretched arms;
- is unstable or its contents may move, causing uneven muscle strain and fatigue because the centre of gravity of the object is away from the centre of the worker's body;
- due to its shape or consistency, may injure the worker, especially in a collision with another object.
Handling of loads may pose a health risk if:
- the physical effort required is too great, such as performed too often or for too long; it can only be done by turning the upper body;
- it may be accompanied by a sudden movement of the load;
- it is done with an unstable or uncomfortable posture (includes uncomfortable poses or movements such as bowing and/or turning the body, raising the hands, bending the wrists, overexertion).
Working conditions can pose a health risk if:
- there is not enough room for the handling of loads, especially in the vertical direction;
- the floor is uneven or slippery, causing a risk of falling;
- the handling of loads must be carried out on different floor or working surfaces;
- the standing ground is unstable;
- the air temperature or humidity is unsuitable for the handling of loads or the necessary ventilation is absent. Heat makes workers sluggish and sweating makes it difficult to hold the work equipment, therefore more force must be used. Low temperatures can make the hands numb, which makes gripping more difficult.
The organisation of work involving handling of loads may pose a health risk if:
- the work is too frequent or prolonged, placing a heavy burden on the spine in particular;
- the work is done while sitting;
- rest or recovery time is too short;
- the lifting and lowering of the load takes place at an uncomfortable height, for example above the shoulder line or below the knee height, or at an awkward distance, for example away from the body;
- the weight cannot be supported against the body while carried or the carrying distance is too long;
- for technical reasons related to the work process, the employee cannot change the pace of work;
- the employee is wearing inappropriate clothing, footwear or using other equipment not suitable for the handling of loads.
The personal characteristics of the employee may pose a risk to health if:
- they do not have the necessary training for the safe handling of loads;
- their physical characteristics and abilities, such as height, weight and strength, are unsuitable for a particular job;
- they have a history of back problems.
The employer must take organisational and technical measures to prevent or reduce the health risk arising from work involving handling of loads. In the case of heavy physical workload, the employer must allow the employee to take breaks during the working day or shift. The employer must ensure that the employees whose duties include handling of loads are instructed in the correct use of aids and the avoidance of the risks associated with the handling of loads at the workplace prior to being admitted to work, and that they are trained in the use of the correct work techniques.
If handling of loads constitutes a major part of the employee's working time, the employee may be employed in that work from the age of 18. Pregnant women, women three months after giving birth and children under the age of 16 are prohibited from work involving the handling of loads.
Accidents and musculoskeletal disorders can be prevented by eliminating or reducing the risks associated with the manual handling of loads. First, consider whether manual handling of loads can be avoided by the use of power-driven or mechanical handling equipment such as conveyors or loaders. If manual handling of loads cannot be avoided, consider the use of special equipment such as forklifts, handcarts, and vacuum lifting equipment. If the risks associated with manual handling of loads cannot be eliminated or reduced, consideration should be given to rotating work and providing the employees with sufficiently long breaks. The employee must be provided with information on the risks and adverse health effects associated with the manual handling of loads and must be trained in the use and proper handling of equipment.
The employer must take the following measures to reduce the risk to the employee's health:
- provide the employee with suitable technical accessories;
- if possible, reduce the mass of the load to be carried;
- ensure a suitable indoor climate and adequate ventilation and lighting for the handling of loads;
- ensure sufficient free space for safe handling both at the workplace and on moving routes;
- shorten the load bearing path;
- reduce the duration of the handling of loads, including appropriate rest breaks;
- organise the work in such a way that the employee can alternate the work involving handling of loads with physically undemanding work tasks;
- provide the employee with personal protective equipment if the handling of loads involves a risk of injury.
Correct techniques for the handling of loads
Before starting work involving the handling of loads, the task must be planned and prepared for.
Make sure that:
- the destination of the load to be handled is known;
- there are no obstacles at the destination;
- the load is held firmly;
- the hands, the load and the handles are not slippery;
- by handling the load together with someone else, you both know what the task is.
You should use the following technique when handling loads:
- place your legs on either side of the load so that your body is positioned above the load (if this is not possible, try to be as close to the load as possible),
- use your leg muscles when lifting the load,
- straighten your back,
- pull the load as close to the body as possible,
- lift the load and carry it with your hands straight down.
It is important that:
- the object is pushed and pulled with body weight, tilting the body forward when pushing, and backwards when pulling; there is sufficient surface on the floor to tilt the body forwards or backwards; avoid turning and bowing your body;
- the special equipment used for the handling has handles/grips so that you can apply hand force;
- the height of the handle should be between the shoulders and the waist so that it can be pushed and pulled with a good neutral posture;
- the special equipment used for the handling is well maintained so that the wheels are of a suitable size and move smoothly;
- the floors are hard, smooth and clean.