Work health and safety: Hazardous manual tasks

CPD hours:

Hazardous manual tasks are the most common cause of workplace injuries in Australia. Healthcare workers are regularly asked to perform manual tasks as part of their routine practice.

The purpose of this module is to provide an overview of hazardous manual tasks and prepare health professionals to identify, assess and control the risks associated with performing these tasks in healthcare environments.

A recent article published in the Lancet (Foster et al 2018) reported that the evidence to support primary prevention of lower back pain was inadequate.

The authors of the article, leading specialists from around the world, found that most of the widely promoted interventions to prevent lower back pain, including work-place education, no-lift policies, ergonomic furniture, mattresses, back belts, and lifting devices, ‘…do not have a firm evidence base’ and only moderate quality evidence supported the use of a combination of exercise and education in prevention.

With respect to treatment, the advances in evidence with the greatest potential for the treatment of non-specific lower back pain supports treatments that ‘…align practice with the evidence, reduce the focus on spinal abnormalities, and ensure promotion of activity and function, including work participation’ (Foster et al 2018).

The predominance of treatment for lower back pain continues to be a biomedical approach whereas the evidence supports management from a biopsychosocial perspective.

What this means is that the approach to management of non-specific lower back pain should change from medication, surgery, rest, and imaging and x-ray, to management that involves patient-centred individualised care plans that address behavioural, psychological, and social factors.

Evidence based guidelines on management of lower back pain encourage:

Staying active - avoid bed rest

Continue with usual activity

Continue work

This module is based on the current 2016 Australian Safe Work Guidelines. The language used in this module is consistent with the guidelines.

Those participating in this module should note:

  1. The module is not about treatment of lower back pain.
  2. The module, where it discusses risk management and reduction specifically is about preventing injury and pain and is not about treatment of existing pain or injury.
  3. Messages that indicate avoiding certain movements to avoid injury should not be interpreted as advising against movement and activity.
  4. The current available evidence is that, amongst other things, exercise, movement, and continuing normal activity is recommended in the treatment of  non-specific lower back pain.

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At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Define musculoskeletal disorders and hazardous manual tasks.
  • Understand the characteristics of hazardous manual tasks.
  • Identify tasks that may be considered high risk for musculoskeletal injury.
  • Assess the risks associated with hazardous manual tasks.
  • Explain how to control the risk and prevent an injury associated with hazardous manual tasks.

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • This is learning objective 1.
  • This is learning objective 2.
  • This is learning objective 3.
  • This is learning objective 4.
  • This is learning objective 5.
  • This is learning objective 6.

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