Someone with even a basic level of health and safety training will know that if manual handling of heavy or awkward loads can be avoided, it should be.
It is a surprise therefore when you hear of cases such as MAHLE Powertrain, fined £200,000 for expecting production workers to handle components weighing up to 21kg, hundreds of times in a shift. They have since provided mechanical lifting aids to reduce the manual handling.
However, we should be careful if we think that once we have introduced lifting aids, the job is done. I have seen examples of wheeled cages being used with damaged hinges on the cage floor, trolleys used with parts of the sides missing and sack barrows with gummed up wheels. None of these organisations had systems in place for prompting and recording regular checks of the handling equipment. They knew that passenger lifts and powered moving equipment needed to be checked by independent engineers, but they had not considered the simple measure of using their own, quite competent staff to make a common sense visual check of the equipment they were using. People seemed to have developed a blindness to any damage or missing parts.\
A great starting point if you don’t have a system in place for checking handling is to go around and take some photographs. For each trolley, sack barrow, cage or other handling equipment take two images – one of the equipment in its normal storage location, and a second close-up of any identification tag or serial number. If your equipment doesn’t currently have a unique id you will need to get some labels made up. Trying to distinguish between “the blue trolley” and “the other blue trolley with lots of scratches” is not a reliable method for guaranteeing the safety of your equipment.
Along with each image record the unique id, a short description and the location where the equipment should be stored.
You then need a checklist, with some simple instructions on what needs to be done. Simple checks might include:
Make sure too that once equipment has failed a check, it is taken out of use – too many times I’ve seen a piece of equipment that has failed a check back in use because it was left lying around.
Once you know that the equipment is being checked, don’t neglect to train staff. A recent prosecution of homeware high-street chain, Wilko, shows the dangers (and expense) of assuming staff will know what to do. Wilko had reduced the manual handling risk by arranging for the delivery of goods to the shop from the warehouse in wheeled cages. However, staff had not been given guidance on how to check that the cages had been safely loaded before moving them. When 20-year old part-timer and student Corisande Collins and her supervisor loaded four cages into a lift they didn’t realise that the centre of gravity was too high. When the goods lift stopped at a slightly lower level than the floor, Corisande tried to manoeuvre the first trolley over the lip created. The cage fell over, crushing her under hundreds of litres of paint tins. She suffered severe spinal injuries, and is likely to be wheelchair-bound for life. Wilko had to pay fines and costs of nearly £2.2 million, and a civil case by Corisande to provide compensation will follow.
I’ve seen handling registers and checklists such as this created in Word documents, with a copy printed out each time an inspection is carried out, and then scanned and stored as evidence. Separately – perhaps in Excel, perhaps on paper – will be a list of which staff have had what training and when. How much easier it would be to link plant, inspections and training records together in one online system, and how much more effective to have the system remind people when inspections and training are due.
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