Raising standards

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common of all work-related health problems and arise from a variety of physical and psychological demands placed on a person during their life.1

Musculoskeletal disorders either cause people to work in discomfort and with less efficiency, thereby increasing their risk of accidents, or prevent attendance at work due to reduced strength, pain and immobility.

Within the working environment our primary objective in reducing the risk of injury should always be to optimise the design of manual handling operations and thereby improve the task, the load and the working environment.2

Accordingly, manual handling training should complement a programme of risk management rather than being used as a ‘stand alone’ answer to all manual handling problems. Training cannot compensate for poor work design.

Selecting the training team

To establish a team of manual handling trainers, it is necessary to carefully assess the type of individual to choose for the training team. This will help overcome barriers that may reduce their effectiveness.

The ideal trainer will be an individual known and respected within their department. They possess good communication skills and firmly understand the day to day tasks that people perform in their working area.

The trainer may not be of a senior level in relation to those that will be trained. Their personal development to undertake this responsibility must be underpinned by an assessment. This ensures they have the competencies and confidence to plan and deliver training sessions.

Training the training team

The first day of trainers’ training took place off-site, uninterrupted by the distraction of manufacturing operations. To be confident in the teams’ abilities as trainers, the programme was divided into three sessions. The first strengthened the effectiveness of their responsibility to teach manual handling, giving the team an appreciation of learning styles. Learning how to meet the needs of those being taught enabled them to develop their individual presentations. We also explored how to handle difficult situations by considering what could go wrong during their training session. From this, a contingency plan was formed to overcome such difficulties.

The second session enhanced their knowledge base and practical skill through an explanation of how the body reacts to manual handling. This was followed by a demonstration of manual-handling techniques.

Based on the content of the foundation sessions, trainers then created a training package specific to their own area of work. Trainer notes were used as reference material and a Powerpoint presentation supported the session.

Trainers listed all the hazardous manual-handling operations that are undertaken. Against that list they would note the associated risks to health. The next step defined the actions required to control the risk of injury.

Use of examples

One example demonstrated involved the movement of 25kg sacks of flour from a trolley into a sieve.

Training aims to prevent a manual-handling injury by avoiding lifting, carrying and tipping.

The objective was to secure commitment to use this manual handling aid; those being trained participated in a discussion about safe handling and the consequences of unsafe practice.

Having focused the trainees on their need to perform safely, instruction on the use of a vacuum lift achieved a behavioural change. The outcome eliminated a strenuous manual-handling task.

The context of training

Training is based on the presumption that some injuries are caused by a faulty technique. It therefore follows that injury may be prevented if people are taught a correct technique.

A good technique is partly a matter of following correct procedures and partly a matter of developing new skills.

Manual-handling training must follow the requirements of guidance contained in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (1992) and any subsequent revisions. In the guidance, the point is made that the provision of training alone will not necessarily ensure safe manual handling. Training will only produce short-term changes in behaviour unless it forms part of a much wider manual-handling injury-prevention project.

The organisational climate has to support training. Here the active involvement of departmental managers was essential, led by the site manager. This reinforced the reason for manual handling training and secured support for ‘quality training’ as opposed to the number of people trained in the shortest time.

It is critical to success that the work team needs to see their line and departmental managers undertaking and taking seriously the same training that they receive. The approach is one of a united effort towards reducing accidents and injuries to create a safe environment and an efficient and profitable company.

Within any organisation, many manual-handling operations are routinely carried out unnoticed.

Through our training programme, those undertaking a multitude of routine tasks were for once being shown what to do, rather than told to do it.

It would, however, be optimistic to assume that a one-off training session be sufficient to change unsafe behaviour.

The value of audit

The audit process provides an opportunity to measure the effectiveness of training and helps to understand why people are not undertaking tasks in the way that they were shown. In doing so, the audit process serves to either reintroduce best practice or deal with the root cause of non-compliance. Audits were commenced at our West Bromwich site and took the form of a monthly checklist that required each trainer to observe behaviours during base movements, team lifts, pushing and pulling tasks. The results were displayed on the bakery health and safety notice board to acknowledge achievement and identify areas where improvement was needed.

The operatives now consider themselves to be custodians of the process and the conscience of the company with regards to manual-handling standards. Following the period in which the trainers at West Bromwich had completed their individual training packages, reviews of their progress were monitored with dynamic results. They wished to participate in the manual-handling risk assessment process. For this, they undertook a further period of training lead by the regional health and safety manager.

Acknowledging achievement

Upon completion of training, trainers were invited to a lunch to mark their achievements with the presentation of trainer’s certificates. Each member of the manual-handling training team had the self-motivation to step out of their normal role to undertake teaching and practical work. This has been delivered to their work colleagues who were junior, senior or at their level in the organisation, a challenge that would not have been possible without their commitment to improve health at work.

Action plans can be broken down into three areas:

– Short-term actions that can be completed within a very short time frame normally of low or no cost but based on training or process activity.

– Medium-term actions that normally requiring some work prior to implementation.

– Longer-term actions that require significant changes in operation and or include capital/revenue submissions.

– The final phase requires a review of the assessment process at regular annual intervals or when the operations changes.


1. Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders – a reference book for prevention, Hagberg et al 1997
2. Manual Handling Operations Regulations, HSE 1992

Practical Skill number:

1. ‘Task, Individual capability, Load and Environment’ (TILE) Assessment
Close to load
Feet apart
Leading leg forward
Good grip
Rock to test load
Chin up to lift up
Lift using legs

2. Select equal-sized partner
TILE Assessment
Agree words of command
Chin up
Lift using legs
Walk not twist to turn
Chin down to place down

3. Tile assessment
Secure footing
Hands between shoulder and waist
Route clearly seen
Body weight to start
Controlled movement

Karen Pay is regional HR manager, Brian Croston, Midlands regional health and safety manager and Joe Patton, senior occupational health adviser/ergonomist at Allied Bakeries

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