2 min read

When is a big load too big for a worker to push?

By Jeff Salton

Manual handling injuries to workers still plague many industries and while some tasks pose obvious risks if undertaken incorrectly, others may not be so apparent.

For instance, what is the maximum weight that can be pushed by a staff member … 20kg, 50kg, 100kg? What if the load isn’t on wheels? Is it much less or the same?

Or none of the above?

Well, there is currently no maximum weight prescribed either by legislation or otherwise that may be pushed by a worker. This is because it has become widely recognised that different people have different physical capabilities, and that a weight of a load to be moved is only one of the factors that may contribute to injury.

However, as a guide, the Code of Practice – Hazardous Manual Tasks (2011) suggests that a hazardous manual task could be identified the characteristic of ‘sustained force’ which includes pushing or pulling a trolley:

Pushing loads is preferable to pulling because it involves less work by the muscles of the lower back, allows maximum use of body weight, less awkward postures and generally allows workers to adopt a forward-facing posture, providing better vision in the direction of travel.

Reduce the effort required to start the load in motion by:

  • Using motorised push/pull equipment such as tugs or electric pallet jacks
  • Using slide sheets to reduce friction when moving patients
  • Positioning trolleys with wheels in the direction of travel.
  • Using large power muscles of the legs and whole-body momentum to initiate the push or pull of a load.

Reduce the effort to keep the load moving by:

  • Using motorised hand trucks and trolleys that are as lightly constructed as possible and have large wheels or castors that are sized correctly and roll freely
  • Using hand trucks or trolleys that have vertical handles, or handles at a height of approximately one metre.
  • Ensuring that hand trucks and trolleys are well maintained.

Reduce the effort needed to stop the load by:

  • Indicating the place where loads need to be delivered.
  • Planning the flow of work.
  • Encouraging workers to slow down gradually.
  • Fitting brakes and speed limiters so speed can be controlled, particularly if there is a need to stop quickly so as to avoid other traffic.

But again, when not lifting but pushing or moving a load, there are no prescribed maximum weights or methods and each ‘task’ should be assessed on its unique risks.

Managing the risks

Work health and safety legislation provides that hazardous manual tasks have to be identified, and the risks of lifting or moving the load must be managed. That is, the risks of strains, sprains or other injuries must be eliminated, or if that is not reasonably practicable, the risks must be minimised.

Michael Selinger, Editor-in-Chief of the Health & Safety Handbook and partner at Holding Redlich lawyers, says businesses need to evaluate the weight of the load as well as all other relevant factors that may contribute to an injury.

For example, if the load to be moved is on wheels, does it need to be pushed uphill or manoeuvred downhill; is the flooring surface hard or soft; rough or smooth; inside or outside? What obstacles need to be negotiated?

It is therefore recommended that your risk assessments of all manual handling tasks are thorough and that the outcomes are conveyed to workers, so can you ensure your workers are trained to engage in the safest manual handling practices possible and that suitable risk control measures are implemented.

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