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Loss Control Insights

Creative Solutions to Reduce Manual Material Handling Injuries

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Are your employees lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying objects more than they need to? According to the National Safety Council, overexertion from manual material handling activities like these is the third leading cause of workplace injuries in the United States, costing employers $13.4 billion a year. The cost may be even higher when you factor in the effect fatigue from overexertion has on overall productivity, work quality and an increase in workplace accidents.

Creative Solutions for Common Problems

  • A school needed a less strenuous way to fold sections of auditorium seating. Administration considered purchasing new sections with automated mechanics to do the job, but that was too expensive. Instead, the custodian welded a $20 piece of angle iron into a pry bar that could be used to lift the section of seats up and into its pocket.
  • A manufacturer wanted to reduce the amount of force required to stamp a part of its finished product. The current production system involved delivering sheets of steel to the press operator in a bin, and the employee would place it in the press. By substituting a caster dolly for the bin, the material could be rolled directly to the press, eliminating the excessive manual handling.
  • Stacking planks of lumber on pallets was a tedious job for a worker who had to reach for planks and bend to place them on the pallet. The task was made easier by a device that would operate at the worker’s height and self level as planks were added to the pallet.

Look for Potential Manual Material Handling Problems

Finding creative solutions to material handling problems starts by observing your day-to-day work processes and work environment.

  • Look for situations where employees are constantly reaching, twisting or extending to move materials
  • Review your loss data to identify troublesome tasks that tend to result in overexertion claims
  • Let employees know that it is okay to alert you of any task they feel may be too strenuous

The NIOSH Manual Material Handling Checklist is a valuable tool to help quickly identify potential problem jobs. This list considers factors such as weights of loads, distances between loads and the body, maneuverability and ease of grasping objects.

Start With Engineering Controls

The following list includes some of the many cost-effective tools that can make tasks less stressful for workers:

  • Scissor lifts to raise or lower the load, making it easier for employees to load or unload materials
  • Rotating work turntables to move the work to the employee rather than having the employee constantly moving to the work
  • Step stools or platforms to raise the workers so they can comfortably grasp materials without excessive reaching
  • Extra handles on heavy containers to provide better grip and control
  • Drum dollies, carts or hand trucks to make it easier to move heavier and/or cumbersome loads from place to place
  • Portable hoists and cranes are ideal for moving heavy loads over short distances

Consider Administrative Controls

If you can’t engineer out the hazard, limit the amount of time workers spend on a task. This can easily be accomplished by:

  • Alternating work tasks between strenuous and less strenuous tasks
  • Making adjustments in the work schedule or work pace
  • Providing workers with sufficient breaks to recover from repetitive work positions
  • Rotating workers through various task that use different muscles and postures

Another administrative control is training. Small group discussions, problem-solving sessions and hands-on practice can help workers understand how to do their jobs without causing excessive stress to their bodies. It’s also an opportunity for employees to offer their suggestions for solving the problem.

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