Helping Your Hardest Workers in Manual Material Handling

posted on: Friday September 21, 2012

While there are many regulations and programs that promote safe handling on the job, none of them really address the employee who works too hard. He already does everything the safest way. He knows how to lift, carry, push, and transfer objects. He is certified to use all the equipment. He begrudgingly takes the time off that he is supposed to. However, when someone calls in, he covers the shift. When a deadline is approaching, he stays late to get the job done. If someone else isn’t working hard enough, he picks up the slack. No matter how safely he approaches each job, he is wearing down his body. This presents a dangerous combination: susceptibility to making mistakes and vulnerability to injury.

Some of these injuries seem to be minor but are actually a big deal. Sprains, strains, and tears are common because we are relatively susceptible to them. Additionally, people don’t always think of them as debilitating injuries, so they’re not as careful as they would be if losing a finger was the consequence.  “It’s just a sprain” is a common mentality, especially amongst those doing physical work. However, a sprain takes weeks to heal – even a mild sprain may need two weeks.  Of course, it can only heal if the injured ligament is not being used. So depending on the severity of the sprain, in addition to doctor’s costs, the injured person may have to take time off from his job. This will impact the injured employee, other employees, and also the company. If the injured person doesn’t allow himself to heal properly, he may be reinjured. This can result in a lifetime of pain, limited use of the joint in question, and a lot of extra expenses.

In the workplace, half of these injuries are the result of overexertion. Again, the very people who are most susceptible to overexertion can sometimes take it the least seriously. People with physical jobs tend to be very hard workers with strong work ethics. They sometimes ignore their own needs when focused on getting the job done. They think pain is no reason to stop working. When this leads to injury, the hardest-working employee is suddenly of little to no use in his current role. Production slows, shifts aren’t covered, organization is compromised, and the injured employee is left to sit and do nothing about it. No one is happy in this scenario.

Overexertion can’t always be fixed with traditional solutions. A manual material handler using perfect body mechanics can still overexert himself. A person who is taking breaks throughout the day can still work his body too long and too hard. Sometimes a manager can’t get around the fact that certain employees are going to risk overexertion no matter how many safety rules are followed. Musculoskeletal injuries occur depending on the frequency, duration, and intensity of the physical work. If frequency and duration are difficult to control, then the intensity factor needs to be examined.

Reducing the intensity of physical labor for the overly-hard worker may require an investment in some machinery or equipment. Automating physical jobs is the absolute best way to cut out some of that physical labor. This may be a big project or one easy purchase.  Redesigning an assembly line or automating very specific tasks may be costly at first. On the simpler side, finding a machine that can complete more than one task can be a minimal investment. There is material handling equipment available that can replace the movements that place the greatest stress on the body, and they’re easier to use than lawnmowers. An example of this equipment is a battery-powered Load Mover. Unlike a motorized cart, a Load Mover provides all the muscle required to start, stop, and push/pull carts, trailers, and equipment.  Something like this can provide maximum coverage with minimal investment. You may find other options that work best for your company by researching manual material handling equipment for pushing and pulling (or whatever your needs are) in your area.

Identify realistic ways to minimize the risk of injury to the people who work hardest for you. Make life better for the people making your life easier.

For more information on the three different types of battery-powered Load Movers, visit for details.