What is a manual task?
A manual task is any activity that requires a person to use their physical body (musculoskeletal system) to perform work. This includes work that involves the use of force for lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, moving, holding or restraining anything. It also includes work that involves repetitive actions, sustained postures and exposure to vibration.
Further information: The term ‘manual task’ replaces the term ‘manual handling’ in line with the Australian Safety and Compensation Council National Standard for Manual Tasks (2007) and National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders from Performing Manual Tasks at Work (2007).
What makes a manual task hazardous?
Almost every activity involves some form of manual task. To distinguish between those tasks that are potentially a problem and those that are not, the term ‘hazardous manual task’ is used. A manual task becomes a hazardous manual task when it has characteristics that increase the risk of injury, such as:
- repetitive or sustained
- application of force
- awkward postures
- application of high force
- exposure to sustained vibration
- handling of
- person or animal
- unstable or unbalanced loads that are difficult to grasp or hold.
A variety of injuries and conditions can result. They are collectively referred to as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and include injuries to soft tissue, bone and nerves; muscular and vascular disorders; and soft tissue hernias.
These injuries have a significant impact for workers and industry as a whole through compensation claim costs, lost productivity, staff replacement and training costs, loss of expertise and administrative overheads. The costs of manual task injuries to the injured worker include pain and suffering, loss of income, and possible long-term disability.
Managing the risks
The most effective way to tackle hazards is to adopt a risk management approach, and this also applies to hazardous manual tasks. The risk management approach can address both the safety (i.e. acute injuries) and health (i.e. cumulative injuries) aspects of this hazard.
Further information: The most effective way to deal with a hazardous manual task is to determine what it is about the task that makes it hazardous then eliminate it if possible. If it cannot be eliminated, then apply the hierarchy of control to reduce the risks.
Each workplace is different and there will be variation in the most suitable approach to implementing and running a program to effectively manage the risks associated with manual tasks.
Experience shows that this is most effectively done in consultation with the people who do the work. All those affected should be consulted, which may mean maintenance staff as well as operators. A participative approach also engenders a sense of ownership of any changes — and should increase the likelihood of success.
Further information: Participative ergonomics is the internationally recommended approach to reducing the overall risk from hazardous manual tasks and preventing MSDs. Workers have an expert knowledge of the manual tasks they perform and are therefore in the best position to undertake the manual task risk management process of hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and evaluation.
The training package is available to provide mining workplaces with the information to run a workshop on how to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders from performing manual tasks in mining workplaces.
The workshop will provide the knowledge and skills for mining workplace employees, as part of a manual tasks risk management team, to undertake the risk management process applied to manual tasks.
The workshop can be adapted to suit:
- a workplace induction program or
- manual tasks risk management training for managers.
Acknowledgement: This training package is based on WorkSafe’s publication Preventing manual handling injuries in the workplace.
Safe Work Australia has a National standard for manual tasks. This publication sets out the principles for the effective management of hazardous manual tasks to avert musculoskeletal disorders arising from manual tasks in the workplace.