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Materials Handling and Ergonomics

Material handling can be a major source of occupational injuries whether the work is done manually or with mechanical assistance. Jobs that involve manual, mechanical or repetitive handling present the highest risk of injury.

Summary of Requirements

Material handling requires careful consideration of many factors including the area of ergonomics. Every job that involves manual, mechanical or repetitive handling should have a job analysis performed to determine how worker injury can be minimized.

Most back injuries that occur on the job are a result of poor lifting technique. Lifting and carrying objects should be designed out of jobs whenever possible. When lifting cannot be avoided, employees should get assistance with heavy and awkward object. The risk of injury can be reduced by staying in good physical shape, planning the lift and removing all obstacles, getting a good grip, getting load close to the body and lifting with the legs. Avoid twisting the back and lifting a load above shoulder height. Lower the load carefully, again bending the knees and keeping the back straight.

Training

Each department is required to provide adequate training to all employees who are susceptible to material handling injuries. This would include proper lifting techniques, proper adjustment of workstations and specialized training in how to use material handling equipment on the job. OSHA specifies that employees involved in the following materials handling operations must receive training:

  • Powered industrial trucks
  • Cranes
  • Powered platforms
  • Servicing multi-piece rim wheels
Inspections

Mechanical equipment: both frequent and periodic inspections must be conducted of powered industrial trucks and cranes.

Recordkeeping

All training sessions and inspections should be appropriately documented and maintained by the individual departments. Training sessions should have a sign-in sheet. Proof of required training should be maintained in the employee's personnel file.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a multi-disciplinary science which emphasizes the importance of designing workstations (i.e. office furniture or industrial work areas and equipment) to fit the individual worker. The objective is to design out as many ergonomic hazards as possible in an effort to reduce cumulative trauma disorders. A properly arranged workstation can prevent injuries.

Summary of Requirements

Ergonomics emphasizes the following as key program components:

  • Top management commitment
  • Written program
  • Employee involvement
  • Program review/evaluation

The four elements of an effective program are:

  1. Worksite analysis
  2. Hazard prevention/control
  3. Medical management
  4. Training/education
Training

Employees in problem jobs and their supervisors shall receive ergonomic awareness and job specific training in:

  • Recognition of workplace risk factors and methods of control.
  • Identification of workplace risk factors and methods of control.
  • Importance of early reporting.
  • Employer's medical management procedures.
  • Reporting procedures and report distribution.
  • Corrective actions to be implemented and role of each individual involved and how to participate in the process.
  • How to procure ergonomic protection standard.
Reporting

Employees involved in conducting job analyses shall demonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • Identification of workplace risk factors and how they relate to the specific job.
  • Job analysis methodologies.
  • Implementation and evaluation of control measures.
  • Problem solving methodologies.
Inspections

The employer shall use the OSHA workplace risk factor checklist or a variation of to identify problem jobs.

Recordkeeping

Identification of problem jobs

Each employer with 10 or more employees shall establish and maintain accurate records of the identification of problem jobs. The records shall include the following information and be maintained for at least 5 years:

  • Name and job classification of empoloyees in each problem job.
  • Copies of most recent, initial and follow-up completed workplace risk factor checklist for employees in problem jobs, with dates of completion.
  • Any other conditions that might have affected the results of the identification of problem jobs.

Job improvement process

The employer shall establish and maintain an accurate record of the most recent job improvement process. These records shall be kept for at least 5 years after the job is controlled.

Training

The employer shall maintain a current copy of training materials and program used, and the most recent methods and results in evaluations of the effectiveness of training for 5 years.

Medical management

Employee records shall be maintained for at least the duration of an employees employment plus 5 years and shall include:

  • Name of employee.
  • Musculoskeletal disorder management plan prepared by the healthcare provider.
Back Injuries

Preventing back injuries is a major workplace safety challenge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. Further, one-fourth of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing industry billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by employees.

Moreover, though lifting, placing, carrying, holding and lowering are involved in manual materials handling (the principal cause of compensable work injuries) the BLS survey shows that four out of five of these injuries were to the lower back, and that three out of four occurred while the employee was lifting.

No approach has been found for totally eliminating back injuries caused by lifting, though it is felt that a substantial portion can be prevented by an effective control program and ergonomic design of work tasks.

OSHA is considering ways to help employers and employees reduce these injuries, and is looking at both major categories of methods for preventing lifting injuries through administrative and engineering controls. The former includes carefully selecting and/or training workers so they can safely perform lifting tasks. Engineering controls attempt to redesign a job so lifting becomes less hazardous.

Summary of Requirements
Suggested administrative controls include:
  • Training employees to utilize techniques that place minimum stress on the lower back.
  • Physical conditioning or stretching programs to reduce the risk of muscle strain.
Suggested engineering controls include:
  • A reduction in the size or weight of the object lifted. The parameters include maximum allowable weights for a given set of task requirements; the compactness of a package; the presence of handles, and the stability of the package being handled.
  • Adjusting the height of a pallet or shelf. Lifting which occurs below knee height or above shoulder height is more strenuous than lifting between these lines. Obstructions which prevent an employee's body contact with the object being lifted also generally increase the risk of injury.
  • Installation of mechanical aids such as pneumatic lifts, conveyors, and/or automated materials handling equipment.
Training

Employees in jobs that have the potential to cause ergonomic stressors, and their supervisors shall receive ergonomic awareness and job specific training in:

  • Recognition of workplace risk factors and methods of control.
  • Identification of signs and symptoms and health effects of exposure to workplace risk factors.
  • Importance of early reporting.
  • Employer's medical management procedures.
  • Reporting procedures and report distribution.
  • Corrective actions to be implemented and role of each individual involved and how to participate in the process.
  • How to procure ergonomic protection standard.
Inspections

In one study it was determined that at least one-third of compensable back injuries could be prevented through better job design (ergonomics).

Other factors include frequency of lifting, duration of lifting activities, and type of lifting, as well as individual variables such as age, sex, body size, state of health and general physical fitness.

The employer shall use the OSHA workplace risk factor check list or a variation of, to identify "problem jobs".

Recordkeeping

Identification of problem jobs

Each employer with 10 or more employees shall establish and maintain accurate records of the identification of problem jobs. The records shall include the following information and be maintained for at least 5 years:

  • Name and job classification of employees in each problem job.
  • Copies of most recent, initial and follow-up completed workplace risk factor checklist for employees in problem jobs, with date of completion.
  • Any other conditions that might have affected the results of the identification ofproblem jobs.

Job improvements process

The employer shall establish and maintain an accurate record of the most recent job improvement process. These records shall be kept for at least 5 years after the job is controlled.

Training

The employer shall maintain a current copy of training materials and program used, and the most recent methods and results of evaluations of the effectiveness of training for five years.

Medical management

Employee records shall be maintained for at least the duration of employment plus 5 years and shall include:

  • Name of employee
  • Musculoskeletal disorder management plan prepared by the healthcare provider.
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