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Manual tasks that involve using your body to move or hold an object are a common occurrence in a lot of workplaces. Tasks such as data entry on a computer, stacking shelves and conveyor line work are all examples of manual handling. Incorrect or ill-informed manual handling has the possibility to cause musculoskeletal disorders; the most common workplace injury in Australia.

Any manual handling task that involves the need to restrain, lift, hold, lower, push, pull or carry something has the ability to lead to stress on the body and ultimately musculoskeletal disorder. This is due to factors such as:

  • Exposure to vibration
  • Repetitive movement
  • Awkward or sustained postures
  • Force that is repetitive, sudden or sustained

WHS laws state that failure to manage hazardous manual handling tasks in the workplace is negligent and in breach of the corresponding legislation. Therefore, employers must ensure they carry out a workplace risk assessment of manual tasks that have been identified as potentially hazardous. The exception to this rule is where a well-known risk is already effectively controlled through measures such as altered work procedures, the introduction of ergonomically designed tools and equipment or a redesigned work area. Risk assessments help identify at what point a manual handling task becomes dangerous and what needs to be done to create safer working procedures. These assessments are also important in the identification of psychosocial risks such as high workloads and tight deadlines that further contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.

What is a musculoskeletal disorder?

Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are injuries or diseases of the musculoskeletal system. The role of the musculoskeletal system is to support and protect the body and includes the skeleton, joints, muscles, ligaments, cartilage, tendons and other connective binding tissue. Musculoskeletal disorders can occur suddenly or happen over time and do not include fractures or dislocations caused by entrapment or crushing. Rapidly occurring MSDs are usually due to sudden unexpected forces whereas MSDs that occur over time are due to continuous overuse, including static body positions. However, it is possible for injuries to occur as a combination when body tissue has been weakened and is therefore more prone to sudden injury from lower forces.

Examples and symptoms of MSDs caused by hazardous manual tasks include:

  • Acute or chronic pain
  • Sprains and strains
  • Soft tissue injuries, e.g. hernias
  • Back injury
  • Muscular and vascular disorders
  • Injuries or degeneration of joints and bones
  • Nerve injuries e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome

How can I ensure correct manual handling is implemented in the workplace?

To avoid MSDs and consequent workers’ compensation claims, the execution of manual handling training is important. Manual handling training supports pre-existing procedures that you may already have in place such as rules on how to use certain equipment and how to safely perform tasks. Training assists employees and management in the identification of risk and control measures that are to be used to minimise the risk. Suitable manual handling training also covers how to safely perform manual tasks and how to report problems.

Employees who perform, supervise or manage manual tasks, as well as workplace health and safety representatives should all receive manual handling training. In addition, staff responsible for equipment maintenance and task design should also receive training. Training should be provided as part of employee induction and should be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

What else can I do outside of offering manual handling training?

In addition to manual handling training, administrative control measures should be put in place. It is important to note that administrative control measures should not be used exclusively as they only attempt to reduce risk through exposure rather than addressing risk factors. Examples of administrative control measures that you could implement to reduce the chance of MSDs include:

  • Job rotation
  • Rest breaks
  • Team handling

Although rotating staff between different workplace tasks requires all staff members to be cross-trained, it is an effective measure to minimise MSDs. Through providing job rotation, you are allowing employees the chance to recover to ensure that they are not overworking a particular muscle or joint. Another effective way of allowing employees to recover is by offering regular rest breaks. Frequent short rest breaks allow for better rest and recovery when compared to longer breaks. The frequency and duration should be determined by the nature of the task and the suspected recovery time. Lastly, team handling, or manual handling conducted by two or more workers, can be an effective administrative control measure. This measure has risk in itself and should only be used in the interim. If opting to pursue this control measure, it is important that employees are matched appropriately, and tasks are shared equally.

How can KINNECT assist?

KINNECT offer SmartMove Manual Handling training programs that are designed to change employee behaviour to reduce the risk of injury. Our training program incorporates simple, practical and realistic techniques. In our 20+ years of delivering injury prevention services to Australian workplaces, we have developed a proven method for executing the most effective manual handling training. Our programs have a track record for being both engaging and effective in reducing workplace injuries.

A worker who completes a KINNECT SmartMove program will:

  • Understand how a manual handling injury sustained at work can impact on their personal life and be motivated to avoid high risk practices.
  • Feel empowered to identify and suggest solutions to risks they identify within their workplace, and have the basic knowledge required to modify tasks or ask for assistance.
  • Have an improved understanding and appreciation for their body and how loads affect its ability to perform tasks safely over a period of time.

Through the provision of a tailored manual handling program for employees, an employer has the potential to:

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of injuries.
  • Reduce overall reportable injury statistics via a reduction in manual handling related incidents.
  • Reduce Lost Time or Medical Treatment injuries.
  • Save money via reduced down time and workers compensation premiums through a reduction in injuries.

By contacting KINNECT you have taken the first step in ensuring your workforce understands the risks associated with manual handling and has the motivation and practical experience to reduce potential injuries and improve their work environment.


  1. Office of Industrial Relations Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, Hazardous manual tasks Code of Practice 2011;
  2. Safe Work Australia, Lifting, pushing and pulling (manual handling);
  3. WorkCover Queensland, Hazardous manual task training;
  4. WorkCover Queensland, Musculoskeletal disorders FAQs;

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