All employers have an obligation to ensure that employees have a safe workplace, system of work and work environment.
These general obligations are the cornerstone of protecting employees and others from harm. Employees also greatly benefit from legislation which helps set what these terms mean for workers. Specifically, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (“the Act“) sets out what every employer must do to ensure a safe work environment by identifying one of the most common risks to employees, Hazardous Manual Handling.
What is it your employer has to do?
- An employer must as far as reasonably practicable identify any task undertaken or to be undertaken by an employee involving hazardous manual handling.
- Eliminate, reduce and control the risk of a musculoskeletal disorder associated with a hazardous manual handling task, so far as is reasonably practicable.
- If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of a musculoskeletal disorder associated the employer must reduce that risk so far as is reasonably practicable by:
(i) the workplace layout; or
(ii) the workplace environment, including heat, cold and vibration, where the task involving manual handling is undertaken; or
(iii) the systems of work used to undertake the task; or
(b) changing the objects used in the task involving manual handling; or
(c) using mechanical aids; or
(d) any combination of the above.
So what is Hazardous Manual Handling?
Hazardous manual handling is defined as having any of the following characteristics:—
(i) repetitive or sustained application of force;
(ii) repetitive or sustained awkward posture;
(iii) repetitive or sustained movement;
(iv) application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force that it would be reasonable to expect that a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking;
(v) exposure to sustained vibration;
(vi) manual handling of live persons or animals;
(vii) manual handling of unstable or unbalanced loads or loads that are difficult to grasp or hold.
Identifying hazardous manual handling tasks
An employer can easily meet their obligations by performing regular Risk Assessments. That is the employer could and should regularly look at the tasks employees perform in the normal course of their workplace activities and identify those tasks performed by employees involving hazard manual handling. New or unusual tasks should also be assessed prior to the task being undertaken.
Performing a detailed risk assessment builds knowledge and understanding about hazards and risks in the workplace and helps to minimize the risk of injury to employees and others in the workplace.
When to assess risk
The Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) website or Worksafe recommends that a risk assessment should be done if:
- there is limited knowledge about a hazard or risk or how the risk may result in injury or illness
- there is uncertainty about whether all of the things that can go wrong have been found
- the situation involves a number of different hazards that are part of the same work process or piece of plant and there is a lack of understanding about how the hazards may impact on each other to produce new or greater risks.
What Should I Do as an Employee?
The Act sets out the five principles of health and safety two of which are that:
(1) Employers and employees should exchange information and ideas to eliminate or reduce risks; and
(2) Employees are entitled and should be encouraged, to be represented in relation to health and safety issues.
So if you are asked to do a task and are concerned that the process has not been evaluated by your employer, or you consider there may be a safer way to perform the task let your employer know. Certainly tell your employer know (preferably in writing and keep a copy) if you think repetitive work tasks actions may be causing you pain. Many shoulder and arm injuries arise from the frequent repetitive nature of factory work.
Emails are a great way to communicate – you can email your employer/supervisor your concerns and request a read receipt and if the matter is not addressed you can always refer back to your email and raise the issue again, consider whether to include the workplace Occupational Health and Safety Officer in your email.