Changing age-old traditions for a safer workplace

For many businesses, manual tasks are an important part of getting the job done.

Not surprisingly, those who work at cemeteries do numerous hazardous manual tasks and are often prone to serious injuries.John Pearce is one of those people. As an employee of Coffs Harbour City Council, John worked at the local cemetery and was concerned about the damage he and others were doing to their backs when lowering coffins into graves.

Despite the generations-old method of lowering coffins, John was determined to find a safer alternative. After extensive consultation with council colleagues and funeral parlours, he designed and built a trolley on an A-frame to transport a coffin-lowering device behind a ride-on mower or small tractor.

John’s invention reduces manual handling activities by about 90 per cent and minimises trip hazards around the grave. It eliminates the need to lift the 52-kg coffin-lowering device on and off the frame and eliminates the need to push the 300-kg trailer.

Following John’s innovative creation, the council now actively encourages all staff to be proactive and provide suggestions on improving health and safety outcomes.

Fittingly, John was a stand-out winner at the 2017 SafeWork Awards for best individual contribution to workplace health and safety.

Register now for the 2018 awards.

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Managing musculoskeletal disorder

Hazardous manual tasks are the most common cause of injury in NSW workplaces, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of all workplace injuries.

Every year, we see over 19,000 major musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) claims costing on average over $30,000 per claim.

Last year, we launched a six-year work health and safety strategy that set a target of reducing serious MSDs by 30 per cent. Following consultation with a variety of industry sectors, we subsequently developed and launched an MSD strategy that focuses on those at greatest risk, such as storepersons, social workers, government employees and the like.

If we can meet this 30 per cent target, it will see almost 8000 fewer workers receiving a serious MSD, saving NSW businesses in excess of $250 million.

The strategy highlights the impact that MSDs have in the workplace and identifies approaches to reduce their incidence and severity.

Consultation and communication are the foundation for the effective management of MSDs.

The essential ingredients for successfully managing MSDs in the workplace include embedding a work health and safety landscape to address risks that lead to MSDs; eliminating MSD hazards at the planning, purchasing and design stage; increasing the use of high level controls; ensuring effective reporting and compliance with legal responsibilities; and supporting injured workers to recover at work.

As an ideal starting point, we recommend the PErforM program– Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks. It is a simple, internationally recommended program that helps to effectively manage hazardous manual tasks.

Get more information on the PErforM program and check out the free PErforM workshop schedule.

Reduce sprains and strains in 5 simple steps

For many businesses, manual tasks are an important part of getting the job done. But even the simplest task can pose a risk unless you take a few steps to keep your workers safe.

A manual task involves using your body to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing. Most jobs involve carrying out some type of manual tasks, but not all of these are hazardous.

These tasks become hazardous when one or more of the following risk factors are present:

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

Injuries can occur from a number of different tasks – such as sitting for too long, doing the same task again and again, over-reaching and handling heavy items.

Preventing injuries from everyday tasks like these can seem near impossible and you may feel like you’ve tried everything, but by taking just five simple steps you’ll see the number of sprains and strains start to shrink.

1. Find the risk factors
Identify the things that cause the injuries. Common culprits include repetitive, sustained or sudden force, repetitive movement, awkward posture, exposure to vibration and performing manual tasks for a long duration.

2. Get your workers involved
Workers who perform the manual tasks can often give you the best idea of potential hazards. Ask them questions like “what makes you sore at work?” and “which jobs do you avoid doing?”

3. Don’t rely on safe lifting training
While your workers should definitely be trained to lift safely, on its own it’s not enough. Change the risk factors to eliminate the hazards.

4. Use higher level controls
This means you don’t have to rely solely on people to do the right thing – they fix the problem at the source.

Where possible, introduce controls that eliminate the risk altogether. If elimination isn’t possible then design out the risk, such as using an engineering solution. Finally, use substitution so that safer methods, tools or equipment are used.

5. Use a simple risk management approach
Identify, assess, control and review the risks. It’s as simple as that.

It’s all a lot to take in, so we’ve developed a short video to explain these steps and provide some examples of what you can do.

Visit the SafeWork NSW website for more manual handling resources, and be sure to check out our series of free manual handling workshops.

Smooth office operators make for better business

Maximising productivity in your office is always easier if your workers are happy and content.

While office employees are much less vulnerable to serious injury than workers in industries such as construction, there are still risks and other factors that can impact their health and safety – and your bottom line.

In an office environment, risks might be someone tripping and falling headfirst into a sharp or blunt object, or electrocution when using a malfunctioning device. But more likely, adverse health effects stem from poor manual handling activity, incorrect workstation set-up, or lack of rest and exercise breaks from computer activity.

If unchecked, these problems can affect productivity, morale and sick leave rates, leading to the need to hire temps or pay overtime.

Clearly it is in the best interest of your business that you run a tight ship when it comes to work health and safety, so where should you start?

Here are some top tips for office workplace safety:

  • Spend some time walking around your workplace, ideally with your work health and safety representative, looking for potential hazards.
  • Hold a meeting with your staff and ask them to flag any issues or concerns, as one of the best ways to identify workplace safety issues is by asking your workers.
  • Examine injury records for repeat incidents, ask staff about possible issues and watch worker activity to see if you can identify any potential problems. You should end up with a list of risks to tackle.
  • Critical to long-term worker health and comfort is proper workstation set-up, especially if duties are mainly desk-bound. Failure to get this right can gradually lead to neck, back and shoulder pain and, in extreme cases, a repetitive strain injury resulting in lengthy sick leave. Ensure your workers know how to set up their desk properly and take regular rest and exercise breaks.
  • One of your top priorities should be addressing injuries caused by manual handling, or hazardous manual tasks. These may be caused by carrying, stacking, lifting, rolling, sliding, pushing or lowering loads as a result of awkward postures, forceful exertions, repetition, duration and vibration. The best way you can help workers is by changing the way they perform tasks by using mechanical aids such as height adjustable trolleys and changing the duration and repetition of tasks.
  • Another priority is to eliminate the risk of workers slipping or tripping by reducing hazards from uneven or worn floor surfaces, spillages, poorly-lit walkways and clutter.
  • Zeroing in on the risk of falls may just require investing in a sturdy mobile step ladder that meets Australian Standards for commercial or industrial use; look for the label on the item when purchasing equipment. A major cause of office falls is workers trying to reach things by standing on chairs or other unsafe objects. Ladder misuse is another clanger, so make sure any ladders are in good condition, get used properly and are regularly checked for wear and tear. Always have three points of contact with the ladder and if possible, anchor the ladder or get someone to hold it.

Click here for more tips and advice on office workplace health and safety, or call us on 13 10 50.

Safer steps to unpacking shipping containers

In the last five years alone SafeWork NSW has investigated 21 incidents involving workers unpacking shipping containers. Many of these workers received serious injuries – three were killed.

A new instructional video has been developed to help workers perform this routine job with minimal risk.

Part of SafeWork NSW’s set of video safety alerts, the short video outlines simple steps to keep you and your workers safe, including working with suppliers so that loads are packed correctly, planning your work and using the right equipment.

View the clip below or visit the SafeWork NSW YouTube channel for more safety alerts.

Four steps for manual handling training

Lifting your game on reducing the risk of manual handling injuries can seem like a heavy burden.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

Injuries stemming from incorrect manual handling can be an albatross around your neck. An injured worker not only places more pressure on workmates and can lower morale, but may also mean paying overtime or hiring a temp to avoid downtime.

Well-meaning employers can often get side-tracked with day to day responsibilities of running a competitive business, leaving little time to tackle work health and safety issues. Another stumbling block is a belief that effective manual handling training costs an arm and a leg.

But an industry trendsetter, Sean Redmond of Sydney-based TOT Transport, has demonstrated successful training is possible for very little cost. Despite having 130 contractors engaged in high-risk manual handling activity, TOT has a lost-time injury record that competitors envy.

So what is the TOT National Business Improvement and Safety Manager’s secret? Not a magic wand but commitment combined with decent equipment and a camera phone.

The first step, he explained, is to avoid manual handling by using suitable equipment.

The second step is to encourage workers to be healthy and fit.

“A guy who’s healthy and trained and in the field every day is less likely to have an injury,” said Mr Redmond.

The third stage is educating workers about being prepared for manual tasks – the same way an athlete would limber up for a big race.

“You’re going to use every part of your body, you’re going to stretch; make sure your diet is right, hydration is right, and every little aspect of what you’re about to do is right before you do it,” he said.

The fourth step – and this is where you need a camera – is putting workers through their paces in a simulated manual lifting scenario and photographing their movements.

“So, say they have a trolley and are about to lift a fridge; we watch them lift that fridge in practice and take a photograph of every single step, and look for any risk associated with it. Then you look for things they can do differently, or beforehand, to reduce the risk of harm. Sometimes the guys will have to move something heavy into a small area and have to compromise themselves physically, so we will try to help them reduce that compromise,” he said.

“We’ll go, ‘so is that the best way of doing that?’, which no-one has ever asked them before, they’re usually just told, pick up that fridge, take it to this address, smile at the customer and don’t be late. No-one’s said before, ‘now, the way you hold that trolley, is that the right way, and when you lift back, are you jerking or slowly bending knees and moving back?’ – all these little things, that’s how you prevent the injuries.

“Plus you start developing a risk assessment and begin to understand what the main risks actually are, and then put that into practice.”

Get some more helpful tips and advice at or call us on 13 10 50.

Image of slippery floor caution sign

Ten tips to cut slips and trips

A slip or trip in a hazardous workplace doesn’t bear thinking about.

Poor housekeeping is a major cause of incidents in all types of workplaces and if a worker is lucky, they might escape unscathed with nothing more than injured pride.

But as can often be the case, a worker can sustain serious or even horrific injuries.

In, for example, a hospitality environment such as a busy kitchen prone to splashes and spills, the typical injuries are cuts or burns and head injuries.

One particularly nasty incident involved a chef slipping on a pool of water and in an attempt to prevent his fall, he plunged one arm into a pan of boiling oil. He suffered extreme burns requiring surgery and was off work for almost six months.

The implications were not only plummeting productivity and morale but finding a similarly qualified and skilled stand-in chef to keep trading and prevent a slide of the restaurant’s reputation.

So clearly it is in your best interests to do everything you can to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls – but where do you start?

  1. A good kick-off point is to seek input from your workers about potential hazards as they are often more aware of issues due to the nature of their work.
  2. Spend a day walking around your workplace with your health and safety representative monitoring worker activity and tasks, identifying potential slip and trip hazards, and making a checklist.
  3. Recognise housekeeping issues, such as stacked boxes or supplies, cables, general mess or fluid spills or leaks, take appropriate action then monitor areas to avoid any repeat activity.
  4. Provide bins for workers or customers to dispose of rubbish, ensure containers have secure lids, and install drip trays beneath machines or water coolers.
  5. If your workplace is prone to spills, splashes, leaks or moisture build-up, consider installing slip-resistant flooring designed to function even when coming into contact with liquids.
  6. Acid-etching of hard surface floors, including tiles, may help improve slip-resistance properties in wet conditions but can wear off quickly depending on foot traffic volume.
  7. Profiled metal floor surfaces can be effective depending on what type of footwear your workers wear but can be more slippery than expected – mild steel is better as it gets more abrasive and slip resistant with age.
  8. If a path, walkway or stairway has uneven sections or holes, possible fixes include relaying the surface, filling in holes or installing handrails – but if these are impractical, then highlight hazards with eye-catching colours, erect warning signs or improve lighting to make the risk more obvious.
  9. Workers or customers entering your business might carry water or mud inside on their footwear, making the surface slippery – a possible solution is laying slip-resistant rubber or absorbent matting.
  10. Introduce an effective hazard monitoring and cleaning system to react quickly and efficiently to any spills, leaks, splashes or accumulation of material that might pose a risk.

Visit for more advice or call us on 13 10 50.