Load-carrying: How to limit risks and preserve employee safety?
Present in various industries (logistics, construction, industry, sales, etc.), load-carrying and the associated physical effort can have harmful effects on your workers’ health.
As a manager or safety/security officer, it is essential to control load-carrying in your company.
This article reminds you of the main risks of load-carrying for employees’ health and safety. It also provides ways to minimize these risks through appropriate equipment, safety devices, instructions, and appropriate training courses.
I - Load-carrying and its risks
What is load-carrying?
Load-carrying refers to the action of lifting, moving, or transporting objects, either manually or mechanically. The transported loads can include boxes, crates, bags, construction materials, etc.
Any operation involving the transport or support of a load, including lifting, placing, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving, requiring the physical effort of one or more workers, is generally considered manual handling.
Repetitive load handling during a workday can expose workers to risks.
Risks of injuries associated with load characteristics
Firstly, there are risks related to the characteristics of the load. Its volume, shape, and weight, for example, can lead to injuries.
Some standards and regulations define the acceptable limit of load handling based on the employee’s age, gender, distance to travel, and task characteristics.
Acceptable limits for manual load handling are generally established for workers, and reference threshold values allow you to define risk zones for optimal handling conditions.
As soon as a handler lifts a load that is too heavy or bulky from the ground, they expose themselves to injury risks.
Soliciting the posterior chain frequently leads to dorsolumbar risks. In the long term, heavy load handling can affect the physical abilities of workers.
Furthermore, upper limbs are not exempt from risks. Improper load-carrying can lead to injuries in the shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, resulting in ligament inflammation.
Risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
Secondly, load handling can cause MSDs. They often result from repetitive movements combined with the weight of loads.
When the constraints and demands on joints, muscles, and tendons are daily, MSDs gradually appear. They affect the physical abilities of employees, particularly in handling and production positions.
MSDs include common work diseases such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist;
- Rotator cuff syndrome in the shoulder;
- Lateral epicondylitis in the elbow;
- Low back pain.
Risk of falls
Finally, load-carrying can lead to collisions between individuals or against obstacles during movements or even falls to the ground. Carrying packages all day long, muscle fatigue, or a moment of inattention can lead to a loss of balance and quickly be followed by a fall.
While falls on the same level can cause minor injuries such as abrasions, they can also result in: fractures, sprains, or dislocations.
In rare cases, when the fall results from a significant impact between the load and the employee, the consequences can be more severe: such as spinal injuries, head trauma…
II - How to reduce risks related to load-carrying?
Faced with the risks of load-carrying outlined above, there are effective solutions to implement to reduce incidents and their consequences.
1 - Limit load-carrying whenever possible
Your responsibility to preserve the health and safety of employees is, first and foremost, to limit load-carrying.
Employers should avoid manual load-carrying when the task allows it, by taking appropriate organizational measures or using suitable equipment including mechanical devices.
You can adapt manual handling by limiting repetitive tasks and paced tasks, thereby preserving employees’ physical, particularly muscular, abilities.
To achieve this, favor teamwork rather than individual work! When handling heavy and/or bulky loads, distributing the load weight and constraints among several handlers prevents risks of falls, injuries, and MSDs. Additionally, teamwork allows for task rotation, reducing the repetitive nature that can lead to mental fatigue.
You can also limit load handling by providing mechanical handling means. Lifting devices, forklifts, pallet trucks, and overhead cranes, to name a few, can move heavy and bulky objects more safely.
These handling equipment often include electronic load control devices to limit imbalances that cause falls. When equipped with motion detectors, they prevent the risk of collision between people and machines.
2 - Evaluate risks at each workstation!
To avoid risks related to load handling, you must « combat risks at source ».
By having a good understanding of the risks of load-carrying, especially risks that cannot be avoided, you can define ways to preserve personnel safety. Ensure that your evaluation of load-carrying risks is as comprehensive and up-to-date as possible!
Seek the assistance of your company’s occupational physician, your committee in charge of worker health and safety, and your employee representatives. They will help you analyze work accidents that occur at each workstation involved in load-carrying. Together, you can identify the causes of these incidents and the situations that caused them, and keep a record of them for follow-up.
Also, evaluate the characteristics of the loads to be carried in light of the physical capacity of each of your employees and the technical means and mechanical aids available.
3 - Raise awareness and train your staff on proper load-carrying
The upstream work of risk assessment allows you to verify the relevance of your load-carrying safety instructions. As a result, you can modify them based on your load-carrying safety instructions. As a result, you can modify them based on your organization and your employee’s work conditions to limit injuries and work accidents.
You can implement various preventive actions to communicate your safety instructions, including:
- Training in handling techniques and postures for load-carrying.
Such training allows your employees to learn (again) how to use handling techniques adapted to different situations. It is essential to raise awareness among employees and remind them of safety rules, physical protection, and energy conservation. These elements are crucial to preserving each individual’s health capital!
- Internal communication on safety concepts and postures for load handling, limiting the risk of injuries.
You can also rely on posters, messages, and safety communications. Correct lifting techniques, for example, are often forgotten. Visual reminders, such as images reminding employees to bend their knees while keeping their backs straight, approach the load, and lift using their legs rather than their backs, can sometimes be more effective than words!
4 - Provide safety equipment
For all positions exposing employees to health and safety risks, it is essential to provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Fluorescent vests or yellow helmets, for example, allow employees to be seen and avoid collisions with, for instance, forklifts.
Additionally, you can provide your employees handling loads with Personal Safety Devices (PSDs) for protecting isolated workers. Handling, preparation, and transportation tasks are often carried out by lone or isolated workers! These jobs are frequently scheduled during non-standard hours or in sites operating 24/7, increasing the risk of isolation. In the event of an incident, a worker may not be able to get help from a colleague unless equipped with a Personal Alerting Safety Device (PASD) to signal danger to a supervisor or receive telemonitoring by pressing an SOS button or through automatic detection (fall, lack of movement, etc.).
You have seen that the main professional risk factors related to load-carrying cause work accidents, injuries, and MSDs. However, appropriate safety instructions and risk prevention actions can reduce their occurrence! It is essential to raise awareness among each employee whose activity involves load-carrying of the risks they are exposed to. To achieve this, you must constantly remind them of safety rules and best practices for load-carrying, including posture, load weight limits, etc.
Additionally, do not forget to regularly offer tailored training (lifting techniques, etc.).