Manual handling injuries are not only unpleasant for workers but inconvenient for food processing businesses. They can cause staffing problems, lead to compensation claims and seriously impact profitability. And they’re common too—accounting for more than half of all injuries in the Australian meat industry.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the consequences of poor manual handling, review common unsafe manual handling techniques and investigate how to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries in your food processing plant.
- Consequences of poor manual handling
- Unsafe manual handling techniques
- How to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries
5 consequences of poor manual handling
Manual handling is the primary cause of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), such as muscle strains and injuries to ligaments and other structures in the back and upper limbs, accounting for more than half of all injuries in the red meat processing industry.
‘Manual Handling in the Red Meat Industry’, WorkSafe Victoria
For food processing plant workers, the most common consequences of poor manual handling are:
- Short-term physical injuries
- Long-term or chronic conditions
- Mental health issues
- Loss of income
- Medical expenses
At a minimum, this equates to time spent incident reporting. But it could also extend to significant time off, a Workers Compensation claim and staffing changes as a result of the injury.
Unsafe manual handling techniques
When we think of manual handling, we generally imagine lifting and moving heavy objects (“push, pull, carry”). This certainly does account for a large proportion of manual handling tasks. However, manual handling can also include any repetitive movements that are performed manually.
WorkSafe Victoria defines hazardous manual handling movements as:
- Repeated, sustained or high force
- Sustained awkward posture
- Repetitive movements
- Exposure to sustained vibration
- Handling people or animals
- Loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold
Manual handling activities in food processing
For food processors, the main manual handling tasks to be cautious of are:
- Lifting/tipping: Lifting and tipping of product, however briefly, at any point during processing.
- Mixing: Manually mixing product is very likely to cause physical strain.
- Weighing: It’s not so much the weighing of product that causes strain as the need to manoeuvre it onto the weigh scales.
- Moving: Transportation of product from one part of the processing plant to another.
- Washing: Once the food product has been packaged, the large containers in which it was held, marinated and otherwise processed, must be cleaned.
There are other manual processes, especially within the meat industry, that can cause issues too. For example:
- Head removal
- Wrapping and packing
How to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries
The number one piece of advice for food processors is to use mechanical aids in all possible instances to avoid manual handling, thereby minimising the risks. There is a wide range of mechanical handling equipment available for food processors, including:
- Weigh scales – for weighing product
- Euro bin racking and stacking – for storing product
- Tumbler mixers – for marinating and/or coating product
- Euro bin tippers and lifters – for lifting and emptying the bins
- Wash frames – for washing bins
Learn more: Mechanical handling equipment examples
SYSPAL is FPE’s brand of choice and manufacturer of the “single bin [mechanical handling] solution” – a selection of complementary machines capable of handling a number of processing tasks on a single bin, without the need for any worker manual handling.
If you’d like to talk this over with someone in our team, or would like further details about any of the mechanical handling solutions we supply, please don’t hesitate to contact us on AUS 1800 882 549 or NZ 0800 100 003.