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A hazardous manual task means a task that requires a person to lift, lower, push, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing, either with high, sudden, repeated or sustained force, repetitive movement, awkward posture or exposure to vibration.

These factors can lead to stress on the body and result in injury. If you are a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you have specific obligations to manage the risk of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) associated with a hazardous manual task that your workers may undertake.

Musculoskeletal disorders

An MSD means an injury to, or a disease of, the musculoskeletal system, whether occurring suddenly or over time. It can be a back injury, a sprained or strained muscle, ligament and tendon, degeneration of a joint or bone, and nerve damage such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These ailments can all result from poorly managed hazardous manual tasks.

Refer to page 3 of the Code for more information.

Managing the risk

As with all work health and safety issues, you should undertake a risk assessment to determine what potential hazardous manual tasks exist in your workplace. This should include consultation with your workers to take into account their views.

The basic elements of a risk assessment are: Identify, Assess, Review.

  1. Identify the problem - this is known as hazard identification.
  2. Determine how serious the problem is - this is known as risk assessment.
  3. Decide what needs to be done about the problem - this is known as risk control.
  4. Review the risk controls to make sure they are working as planned.

Refer to page 5 of the Code for more information. Refer also to the Code of Practice - How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks for information on the risk assessment process.

Identifying hazardous manual tasks

You may not be fully aware of the manual tasks that are undertaken by your workers in their daily routines. That?s why you should engage your workers to assist in the process of identifying tasks around your workplace that are potentially hazardous, either by a single action or through constant repetition.

Hazardous manual tasks can also be identified by looking at how people work and by focussing on their postures and movements.

Refer to pages 7-11 of the Code for more information on how to identify hazardous manual tasks.

Risk assessment

You should carry out a risk assessment for any manual tasks that you and your workers have identified as being hazardous and in which current practices do not already eliminate the risk of injury or illness.

For some complex situations, expert or specialist advice may be useful when conducting a risk assessment. However even something as simple as a poorly set up workstation may pose a risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI) for a worker, and seeking the advice of an ergonomist may reduce or eliminate that risk.

Refer to page 12 of the Code for guidance on how to do a risk assessment for hazardous manual tasks.

Controlling risks

The most effective way of controlling the risk of MSDs is to eliminate the hazardous manual task. Eliminating the hazard altogether is usually easier and cheaper to achieve.

If it is not practical to eliminate the task and associated risk, then you must minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

Before purchasing equipment and tools etc., you should always check whether the item has been designed so that it can be used safely and best matches the needs of your workers. Something as basic and inexpensive as a small step ladder or a simple trolley can reduce manual task risks.

Some of your workers may work outdoors, and manual tasks can be more hazardous in extreme heat or in wind and rain. Introducing common-sense practices for working in these conditions can control the risks to your workers.

Refer to page 20 of the Code for more information on controlling the risks of hazardous manual tasks.

Reviewing control measures

Control measures that have been implemented must be reviewed to make sure they work as planned. Consult your workers involved in the manual task and consider whether the control measures are working effectively without creating new risks. If problems are found, go back through your risk management steps and make further decisions about risk control.

Refer to Appendices A to E of the Code for useful templates for the entire risk management process.