Injury prevention is a top priority in Manual Material Handling (MMH). Whether an injury results in days away from work or a workman’s compensation claim, it is a costly ordeal. The most common (and expensive) injury reported is that to the back. The MMH industry invests a significant amount of time and resources to reduce the likelihood of anyone getting hurt. The most obvious place to start is by training employees how to use proper body mechanics and to implement assistive devices, like a back belt. Do these inexpensive measures actually impact the rate of injury in MMH jobs? Research shows that it does not.
The Cochrane Library’s article “Manual Material Handling Advice and Assistive Devices for Preventing and Treating Back Pain in Workers” reveals the findings of their research. They conducted randomized controlled trials on 20,101 employees and cohort studies on 1280 employees. Their studies compared groups who received training on proper lifting techniques and assistive devices to control groups who received no training, professional education, video instruction, back belts, and exercise. Additionally, the amount of training ranged from intensive to short. In every case, for both long and short-term results, the incidence and severity of back pain amongst the groups were similar. The training and devices made little to no impact on reported back injuries in MMH.
Until now, training and devices like the back belt have been widely-respected techniques in injury prevention for manual workers. However, research shows that even well-informed employees who feel confident in their training don’t necessarily change their behavior. Therefore, training alone will not prevent back injury.
What has proven effective in preventing injury is equipment designed to improve ergonomics. Great or small, devices that take the brunt of physical labor are the most effective at keeping employees happy and healthy. Specifically, equipment designed to push, pull, lift, or carry are most frequently implemented in updated ergonomic and safety plans.
The kind of equipment that is right for a company will obviously depend on the tasks its employees carry out. The website for the Manual Handling Industry of America has several case studies that show specific examples of solutions to tasks like unloading bricks and dumping small parts out of containers. OSHA, NIOSH, and the CDC also have records of successful solutions from a number of industries. If your company requires unique equipment and you’re having difficulty finding the right suppliers, you may be able to find ideas on those government pages. Cranes, automatic rollers, and lifters are examples of some unique equipment some jobs may require.
Fortunately, there is also equipment that is designed to fit most MMH environments. These have been evolving over the last decade or so and are therefore used in more applications each year. For example, the power tugger has proven to reduce injuries and improve productivity for a number of pushing and pulling tasks. In fact, they are a popular alternative for companies who are converting to forklift-free environments. From unloading trucks to pushing slabs of beef on hooks, these tuggers are practical and easy to use.
If you have employees in MMH and are looking to prevent injuries, you have to look further than instruction and back belts. It is vital to the future of your employees and your company to invest in ergonomic solutions to high-risk activities.