Manual tasks risk management

Manual tasks are any activities where a person uses his or her body to perform an action or sequence of actions to carry out work. This includes any task requiring force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing.

Injuries from manual tasks

At ANU the most common workplace injuries are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) arising from manual tasks. MSDs include conditions such as:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • back injuries including damage to muscles, ligaments, nerves and intervertebral discs
  • joint and bone injuries or degeneration
  • nerve injuries
  • muscular and vascular disorders.

Injuries can occur in 2 ways:

  • gradual wear and tear on body tissues over time. This is associated with frequent or prolonged periods of repeated or continuous use of the same body parts
  • sudden damage. This may be caused by highly forceful or strenuous activity, or by unexpected movements.

Managing manual tasks risks

It is a legal requirement to eliminate or minimise the risk of a worker being affected by MSDs. This is achieved through the risk management process which involves:

  • hazard identification
  • risk assessment
  • putting risk control measures in place
  • reviewing and monitoring measures.

Consultation with staff is necessary at every stage of the risk management process.

For further information regarding assessing risks read OHS Risk Assessment guidelines.

Identifying hazardous manual tasks

Not all manual tasks are hazardous. Because injuries can be caused by gradual wear and tear, all manual work tasks should be reviewed.

A manual task may be hazardous if it involves any of the following characteristics:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained and/or awkward posture
  • exposure to sustained vibration

Other ways to identify hazardous manual tasks are to review injury and incident history, or to survey staff regarding discomfort and tasks that are particularly tiring, awkward or difficult to do.

Risk assessment

If tasks are identified as hazardous a risk assessment should be conducted to identify the source of the risk. The on-line risk assessment tool should be used to record risks assessment. The Manual Tasks Code of Practice provides guidance material on conducting a manual tasks risk assessment.

Risk controls

The risks of injury or illness associated with manual tasks must be eliminated or if this is not possible reduced as low as is reasonably practicable. This is usually more easily and cheaply done if risks are considered in the planning and design stage of a workplace or process.

The hierarchy of control ranks risk control measures from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest.

Level 1: Eliminate the hazard and the risk

Level 2: Minimise the risk: where a risk cannot be eliminated, the most effective control to minimise the risk should be chosen. This may be a single measure or a combination of measures.

Redesign or modify the source of risks by :

  • changing the layout of the workplace
  • changing the environment
  • changing the way the tasks is carried out such as the systems of work
  • changing the nature of equipment, loads and machinery things used in the manual task
  • providing mechanical aids to carry out or assist in carrying out the task

Level 3: Change staff actions/behaviour to reduce the risk.

This includes administrative measures such as training, procedures and job rotation. This is the least effective protection measure and should not be the only risk control measure used. An effective risk control measure must not introduce new risks or hazards.

Reviewing and monitoring control measures

Once implemented control measures should be monitored to check that they work and are effective.

All control measure should be reviewed:

  • before any change is made to a manual task or things used in the task
  • before a thing is used for a purpose other than for which it was designed
  • if new information about the task becomes available
  • if a worker suffers an injury or illness due to the manual task
  • if risk control measures do not adequately control the risk
  • if a workplace health and safety representative requests a review.

Record keeping

Records must be kept to demonstrate compliance with the Workplace Health and Safety Act and regulations. Required information includes the hazardous manual tasks, their risks and control measures chosen which is to be recorded on a Risk register. Records of how and when the control measure were implemented then monitored and reviewed also must be kept.

Legislation and guidance material

Work Health & Safety Regulations 2011

Manual Tasks Code of Practice 

National Standard for Manual Tasks 2007.