Manual tasks – one, two, three… ouch!

If you work in aged care you’ve probably experienced some type of injury due to hazardous manual tasks or slips trips and falls.

These are common injuries in this line of work, the most common in fact, and workers in residential and aged care have a higher than average chance of being injured at work – most likely a manual handling injury.

Manual handling claims make up 36 per cent of all injury and disease claims in NSW and the aged care industry clocked up more than 5000 in the three years from 2011/12-2013/14.

Manual handling injuries account for the majority of claims in residential and aged care, and, reflecting the higher proportion of women who work in the industry; women between 40-59 years old represent the most claims.

SafeWork NSW recently wrapped up a pilot program targeting 24 small, medium and large nursing homes and found room for improvement in the following areas:

  • manual handling policies and procedures
  • investigating and identifying risks
  • preventative actions using higher level controls such as design and engineering controls
  • active involvement of workers in the development of policies, procedures and controls for hazardous manual tasks.

Tony Robinson, SafeWork NSW Director of Specialist Services, said further work will seek to engage management staff to improve key hazard controls such as creating effective policies and procedures, consultation with workers, injury investigation systems, and design and engineering controls.

“The project established that compliance was reasonable in lower level controls like training, however with injury rates what they are, clearly more needs to be done at a management level to recognise risks and establish action plans to reduce those incidents,” Tony said.

“The most frequently injured body parts, for staff who work frontline with patients, are the lower back and shoulders, so knowing this, consult with staff about which tasks are likely to cause injury and then take steps to provide a solution.”

The types of manual tasks considered ‘hazardous’ are those that involve:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration.

Hazardous tasks should be assessed according to risk level, which is the likeliness that hazard will cause injury, and the severity of potential or actual injury.

“If you are maintaining an up to date injury register, you will be able to see which types of activity have caused and are most likely to cause injury,” said Tony.

“Establish safe work systems for transferring patients, repositioning patients in bed, transferring patients from beds and chairs, transferring for toileting and bathing and assisting patients who have fallen.”

“This is labour-intensive work so you really need to consider complementing safe work systems with investments in equipment design particularly for tasks that create a high risk of injury.

“We are here to help. SafeWork NSW has resources that can assist in dealing with musculoskeletal pain and performing manual tasks safely.”

Visit our website for fact sheets, PErforM (Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks) workshops and free advisory visits or call us on 13 10 50.

Why you should stick to your core business

A warehousing company recently attempted to install their own pallet racking during a move to another location.

They had seen it done before and thought they could do it themselves instead of hiring a professional.

This resulted in one staff member, hoisted up by a forklift, standing on a second level beam of the racking in order to assemble additional racking components.

The 25-year-old male worker fell around 3.5 metres, hit his head on the concrete floor and sustained serious brain injuries.

In another example, a 49 year old fumigator died after he attempted to remove the wheel assemblies on a tyre containing compressed air.

He was assisting a tyre fitter who was having difficulty removing the wheel assembly when the fumigator offered to help.

The wheel parts exploded with such force that he was propelled 10-15 metres away and pronounced dead on site.

Attending inspector Brett Martin said the area had already been quarantined by SafeWork NSW and the police when he arrived on the scene.

“I’ve investigated a lot of incidents in my 30 years on the job, but this was truly a bad day for everyone involved,” Brett said.

“And like many workplace incidents, this tragedy was avoidable – all the manuals say to deflate the tyres first and he would have known that if he was a tyre fitter.

“It’s very sobering to think that worker might have been alive today if he was using the right equipment, and following the operation and maintenance manual.

“It just wasn’t his job to do.

“I would advise anyone thinking of giving another worker a hand to think twice if they are not trained.”

SafeWork NSW Director, Regional and Response Operations, Tony Williams said workers should stick to what they are trained to do.

“Going outside your core business activities can place yourself and staff at increased risk. Not having the experience required means you may not identify potential risks or consequences. You therefore have a higher chance of getting hurt,” Tony said.

“Do what you know and don’t be tempted to have a go.

“Your health and safety is more important than trying to save a bit of time or money, trying to make a good impression on your boss, or putting yourself at risk to assist a co-worker.”

If you are unsure of how to do something or you have not had the proper training, talk to your supervisor about your reservations.

If you are asked to do something you are uncomfortable doing because you are not qualified or don’t have the proper training, remember: you have a right to say no to unsafe work.

Speak to your supervisor or health and safety representative if you have concerns about doing work outside of your expertise or training, or call us on 13 10 50.

Tips to keep teenage workers safe

Teenage workers can be a real asset to your business. More often than not they’re energetic, enthusiastic and keen to prove themselves in the workplace.

Like all vulnerable workers, however, young workers usually require some extra attention to keep them safe. They may overlook some work health and safety risks, and need to understand the value of following safety procedures to protect themselves.

One in five work injuries in Australia happen to workers younger than 25 years with most injuries happening during the first six months on the job. While they may look mature, typically they will have little or no work experience or training and might let an eagerness to please or fit in prevent them from asking how to do tasks safely.

And if a young person is not being supervised properly then they will be at more risk of making an error with equipment or tools, or may cut corners that could result in an unfortunate incident.

But there are plenty of positive steps you can take to help keep teenage workers safe and your business operating productively. Proper training and supervision also enables teenagers to develop quality skills and safe work practices.

It is essential that supervisors keep a close eye on teenage workers and ensure they know how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safety equipment. The supervisor also needs to alert the young worker to any potential hazards and take every reasonable precaution to prevent them from getting hurt.

Supervisors must also ensure that young workers don’t copy poor safety examples of older co-workers. Teens may assume that if a senior workmate can do it without incident, then so can they.

Teenage years are also a turbulent time for mental health. It is a time when rates of anxiety and mood difficulties are higher. Supervisors need to be aware of signs that a young person is struggling and know how to talk to them about their concerns and suggest where they might go to get help.

Here are a few tips to help keep your teenage workers safe:

  • Conduct thorough workplace training, including how to identify hazards and manage risks, so they are better prepared to do the job safely. It’s also important to put this training into practice – make sure young workers understand what they’ve learnt and can apply it to the job.
  • Encourage supervisors to watch young workers closely and let them know if they are doing jobs incorrectly or in a dangerous manner.
  • Encourage them to speak up if they feel a task is too dangerous or difficult.
  • Encourage them to ask questions when they aren’t sure how to perform a task safely.
  • Remind them that poor work practices can also cause illness that might not become evident until much further down the track.
  • Make sure they know what to do and where to get help during a workplace emergency.
  • Ensure that workplace safety and behaviour rules and procedures are followed, and provide PPE if necessary.
  • Encourage the reporting of injuries, hazards and near misses, regardless of how minor.
  • Feeling tired at work can lead to risky behaviour and dangerous mistakes so encourage (as best you can!) young workers to try to get a good night’s sleep before heading to work.
  • Make sure they know what workplace support options are available for mental health, such as an Employee Assistance Program and sick leave.

Click here to find out how help keep young and other vulnerable workers safe, or call us on 13 10 50.