4 key elements to ensure your Manual Handling training is effective

Manual Handling related injuries are costing NZ businesses millions of dollars a year. Despite all the money spent on injury prevention programmes, strain-sprain injuries continue to be the biggest injury cost for most businesses. 

The assumption is made manual handling training is ineffective. 

How is it we can teach monkeys to jump through hoops, young rugby players to kick a ball through a goal post, golf players to hit a small white ball into a small hole and train un-coordinated adults how to use chopsticks, yet we can’t seem to train willing adults to move without pain and injury. 

It is not that manual handling training is ineffective – it is instead that the current manual handling training and methodology is NOT effective. 

 As a physiotherapist and habit change educator it continues to astound me that we understand the commitment to improving a sporting technique, but do not apply this knowledge to improving an individual’s physical techniques in the working environment. There are centres dedicated to sporting excellence and many experts that make a living in improving and optimising human performance. Individuals spend hours in coaching and analysis to improve the way they use their bodies and ultimately their performance in their chosen sports. 

Yet when it comes to an effective and sustainable manual handling programme many businesses expect to be able to do a ‘short sharp’ education – tell people to be careful to ‘think about what they are doing’ and expect the statistics to show a positive result in injury reduction. 

The principles require are no different than those required in sports. The objective is to improve and optimise the physical capabilities of employees. The arena just happens to be the workplace – not the rugby field, golf course or swimming pool. 

These 4 key elements are applied for sporting improvement and can easily be applied to manual handling programmes. 

1. Study the Elite Performer 

In sports we study the elite performer’s – those individuals at the top of their game. Canoeists study Lisa Carrington, goal kickers study Dan Carter and basketball players, LeBron James.

In the workplace the elite performers are those that don’t get injured. The workers that have been doing a physical job role for years and never had physical pain and injury. These individuals are Physically Intelligent. They know how to use their bodies effectively when they are pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, bending and all common actions required of our body daily. When you take time to study the Physically Intelligent individuals they follow a core-set of safe movement habits that can easily be applied to all physical activity. 

Just like observing the technique Dan Carter uses to kick goals you can learn how to push, pull, bend, and lift effectively by studying the Physically Intelligent population. 

2. Coach 

In sports – we have a Coach. The Coach takes the techniques gleaned from an elite performer and applies the knowledge to their ‘student’ 

Your manual handling trainer is your Coach. They need to apply the safe movement techniques learnt from the Physically Intelligent population and transfer this knowledge to your workers.

3. Physical learning & Feedback 

A Coach in sports never just demonstrates the improved technique or teaches the theory. The ‘student’ physically performs the new technique, and the feedback is obvious in the outcome: how much straighter they hit the ball, how many more baskets they get through the hoop, how much higher they jump. 

The same applies for an effective manual handling programme. The individual needs to physically perform the improved technique and get feedback. How much stronger are they, how much less pain do they get, how much less fatigue do they have by the end of the day?

4. Practice 

The core foundation we understand in sports is the need for practice and repetition. A set time is set aside to practice these new techniques and skills until they become automatic. The more elite the sports player the more time they spend practising and training. 

To embed the safe movement techniques learnt in a manual handling programme – systems need to be set up to encourage individuals to practice. The practice opportunities will differ depending on the business. Some examples are: 

  • For the first 2 minutes after a smoko break – practise moving your feet to avoid twisting 
  • For the first 10 items of an order – practise correct bending techniques 
  • Every time you change the roller on the packing machine practise correct lifting techniques 

It is not until these techniques become a habit will your manual handling programme be effective – and you will have a workforce of Physically Intelligent individual. 

A Physically Intelligent workforce results in a reduction in strain-sprain injuries, less time off work, increased productivity, less errors, increased staff retention and many more benefits. 


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