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Hazardous Manual Tasks

The term ‘manual handling hazard’ has been thought to be misleading as it seems to imply that in order for an injury to occur something heavy must be moved. This is far from the truth and is the reason why the new WHS Act 2012 has removed the term ‘manual handling’ and replaced it with the term ‘hazardous manual task’. Regardless, the two terms can be used interchangeably.

Hazardous manual risks must be managed to remove or reduce the likelihood of a worker sustaining a musculoskeletal injury. Musculoskeletal injuries account for the majority of injuries sustained by workers in Australia each year.

Musculoskeletal injuries (e.g. muscle strains, sprains, joint injuries, hernias, nerve injuries etc.) can be caused by a variety of manual duties, and not all of them involve lifting heavy objects. Hazardous manual tasks have certain characteristics and the WHS Regulations define a hazardous manual task as one that requires a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing that involves:

  • Repetitive or sustained force

  • High or sudden force

  • Repetitive movement

  • Sustained or awkward posture; or

  • Exposure to vibration.

Musculoskeletal injuries may develop over a period of time, but they can also develop suddenly from sudden or unexpected movements.

A moment’s reflection is likely to show that many every day occupational tasks involve these actions, and may have the potential to cause a musculoskeletal injury or disorder. Even the way a worker’s desk or work area is set up has a potential to impact on musculoskeletal health.

In order to manage the risk of hazardous manual tasks, a process of risk identification should be undertaken in consultation with your staff. Risk identification activities may include the following:

  • Reviewing injury and incident statistics – are there any patterns that point to particular issues?

  • Review equipment instruction manuals.

  • Observe if workers have developed ways of carrying out their duties to make their tasks easier.

  • Consult workers to identify potential problems.

  • Use a risk assessment tool.

A search of the internet will reveal many good, basic risk assessment tools to help the small employer identify hazardous manual tasks. Likewise, the Hazardous Manual Task Code of Practice contains a risk assessment tool that is freely available for use. The Code of Practice is available from Safework Australia and can be found here.

Moore McPhee WHS Consultants specialise in the needs of small and medium businesses. We are here to help and can provide cost effective solutions for your business. Contact us on 1300 362 351, or speak directly to our Senior Principal Consultant Vanessa Moore on 0401 382 083 or at [email protected] for a confidential discussion about your particular work health and safety needs.

Disclaimer: Any advice and information in this article is general in nature, does not take into account particular circumstances and should not be construed as professional advice. Unless specifically stated otherwise, the information in this article is prepared for South Australian Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking as defined in the SA Work Health and Safety Act 2012 only. The information may be applicable to other states of Australia that have adopted the harmonised work health and safety legislation but is not guaranteed.


© Moore McPhee WHS Consultants Pty Ltd 2016. All rights reserved. Some content available under Creative Commons from Safework Australia. Copyright from other authors is acknowledged were applicable. Do not copy, publish or reuse without permission.

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