Material handling is associated with a number of risks to workers that can cause industrial injuries. Moving product about, twisting, handling unwieldy loads and working around heavy machinery can all result in incidents that injure your workers.
Material handling injuries often result in costly medical treatment, time away from work recovering, lost productivity, decreased employee morale and higher workers’ comp premiums. As an organization, you must take preventive measures to minimize injuries and the costs associated with them.
Here are some tips:
Focus on ergonomics – Put a premium on ergonomics and proper lifting and try to put in safeguards to protect against the wear and tear of repetitive motions. The main ergonomic issues you should focus on are:
- Stressful postures while handling materials like bending or twisting.
- Repetitive motions such as frequent reaching and lifting.
- Forceful exertions like carrying or lifting heavy loads.
Tour the work area with a supervisor and talk to workers in each area to identify all such ergonomic risk factors and minimize them by putting control measures in place to limit the exposure of employees to all possible risks.
Provide personal protective equipment – The required personal protective equipment that workers need will vary from setting to setting, but it can be of great help in preventing injuries when moving materials manually. Some PPE that are common in material handling settings includes:
- Eye protection
- Steel-toed safety boots and
- Guards to protect the in-step area from impact or compression.
- Back braces
Buy assisting equipment – Reduce the amount of manual material handling your workers have to do by providing them with the equipment that can reduce the chances of them injuring themselves. Some common equipment includes:
- Conveyor belt scales
- Storage equipment (shelves, racks and pallets)
- Bulk material equipment (trucks, silos, drums and grain elevators)
Besides reducing risks to employees, material handling equipment can also greatly improve productivity.
Beware though: some assisting equipment can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Designate and train the appropriate individuals on the correct procedures and verify that they follow safety rules. Ensure that only authorized and trained individuals operate the equipment.
Address noise, vibrations – Noise and vibration are widespread in material handling environments and you should protect your employee’s hearing.
Additionally, while vibrations cause noise, they can also lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders and general employee fatigue. If you use the right equipment you can reduce both noise and vibrations.
Consider matching wheel materials to the floor surface to minimize vibration and noise as well. Use shock-dampening casters and softer wheels to reduce noise and g-forces on a wheeled cart.
Encourage tired workers to speak up – Physical labor can take its toll on your workers and when fatigue sets in they are at greater risk of having accident.
And if they have been doing the same job and same movements and lifting day in and day out, musculoskeletal disorders can set in.
These injuries build up over time so the earlier you can detect an issue the better. That’s why you should encourage employees to report discomfort and fatigue. That way you can act and put in place control measures to prevent fatigue from developing into a serious injury.