Don’t put your back into it

With Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) costing the economy £6.6 million through lost working days and 469,000 workers suffering new or longstanding work related MSDs in 2017/18*, it’s safe to say that this is still a major issue facing both employers and employees despite advances in technology, training and awareness.

With Manual Handling Training (people and objects) being one method of control used by employers to achieve both compliance and risk management/reduction, again it may be safe to say that not all training is both suitable or sufficient. Apart from training issues, it becomes apparent during discussions on training courses that there is a subtle yet important difference in mind-set between people who move objects and those who move people.

Those who move objects such as delivery drivers or those on picking/packing lines, seem to be more self-aware of the potential to injure themselves whereas those who move people such as carers and those in the health profession are more concerned about injuries to their patient or resident than to themselves. While this is almost to be expected due to the very nature of their load (person) and their ‘patient first’ thinking, it’s important to stress that an injured carer is of limited benefit to themselves, their patients or organisation. So apart from the physical side of manual handling training, perhaps a short reminder on the importance of not becoming a casualty yourself and employer responsibility should be a part of any training for people handlers.

We’re all aware that suitable and sufficient training is both a legal requirement and a control measure for workplace activities including Safer People Handling, but what constitutes suitable and sufficient? There are many suggestions to this statement as it’s not defined in legislation, but it may be safe to say that training should be planned, relevant, use the best available or most up to date practices and in the case of people handlers, it should be a blend of theory and practical application with the emphasis on the practical. The trainer should be competent to deliver the materials and information in a place and time that stimulates learning. So how do you choose the right training for your organisation’s needs?

Where to start?

One place to start is to ensure that your employees know, understand and can actually carry out a Dynamic or Point of Work Risk Assessment (PoWRA). This is a relatively quick, undocumented assessment based on the TILEEO process of; Task, Individual, Load, Environment, Equipment and Other factors. This thought chain will help the individual(s) consider the issues that could cause MSD problems and manage them with suitable control measures. However, it’s important to remember that the Individual element focuses on the person DOING the moving or handling and not the person being moved.

Once the decision has been made to move the patient or resident, then the employee should put into practice the Efficient Movement Principles of a dynamic stable base, flexed knees and hips, maintaining the natural S shape or curvature in the spine (not a straight back as was once emphasised), keeping the load (patient) close to their own body to prevent overarching or bending and trying to maintain their head upright to keep the spine’s alignment. One other point that is very important when moving people is to avoid gripping them as this can cause skin and muscle issues to vulnerable patients.

These two elements of training are essential to help employees reduce their exposure to MSDs when moving people. One other aspect that could enable training to be suitable and sufficient is relevancy. When choosing training think about the type of people your employees regularly handle and build your training around them. Considerations such as the patients’ mobility and cognitive ability to assist their carer, common physical issues that the patients or residents have that may make a move more difficult should be included.

Relevancy becomes even more important if you use open course providers or send your staff to training centres that bear little resemblance to YOUR everyday needs. Basically, your training should accurately reflect the situations that your employees regularly encounter during their shifts.

Another important factor to consider is the trainer, or training provider should you use an outside company. If you have your own in-house trainer, then as an employer you need to ensure they are still competent in regards to legislation changes, any new or modified moving techniques and how often they have delivered training and have they kept up with industry best practice for example.

Remember, that as an employer you have to give them reasonable time and resources to plan and deliver their training packages. If they hold a qualification with a shelf life or run out date, it is important they stay within this date and requalify before it expires. If you choose to outsource your training requirements to a course provider then due diligence should ensure that they cater for your needs, if not as a bespoke course then one that aligns itself closely with what your organisation and employees require.

Join the conversation

In closing, this year RoSPA’s annual October campaign (#OSHtober) will raise awareness of the dangers associated with moving and handling (specifically around MSDs) with a ‘back’ to basics overview covering best practice, legal compliance and improved health.

As part of this we’re giving away a free ‘Supporters pack’ which includes a wealth of free content. Not only that, when you sign-up to our ‘Supporters pack’ you’ll be entered into our prize draw for either a free Manual Handling Trainers or Safer People Handling Trainers or Display Screen Equipment course worth up to £1000.* To enter this competition all you have to do is complete the online questionnaire here.

Please get involved in sharing your experiences by using the hashtag #OSHtober.

Neil Porter – RoSPA Trainer

*HSE Annual Statistics on Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders in Great Britain (WR MSDs), 2018. Published 31 October 2018.

 *See website for terms and conditions

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