Three top tips to implement a manual handling programme that works

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It’s a fact that many manual handling training programmes have failed to make a long-term impact in reducing strain-sprain injuries. The result is the overwhelming consensus that training is ineffective. 

I don’t buy that conclusion.

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Over the years I’ve had many clients who’d given up on Manual Handling training. But when they addressed their training methodology, they could make positive change.

I am a physiotherapist – my approach to injury prevention ‘training’ considers how people are designed to move and what they need to do to change unsafe habits.

A recent client - a meatworks company – had like most companies of its kind – struggled with repetitive strain injuries. 

They implemented a training programme that included these three key factors.

For the first time, they had a significant reduction – in fact, no reported injuries – during their busiest season.

1. Make it relevant

Yes, lifting is a risk for strain and injury but it’s often not the main risk that contributes to back, shoulder and arm injuries. 

Pushing, pulling, leaning, bending, working above shoulder height, twisting, gripping and sustained postures are all frequent contributors.

Knowing how to lift and how the spine works will not assist in preventing injuries when a worker is doing things like loading and unloading vehicles, stacking a pallet, working across a conveyor belt or water blasting.

You need to choose a programme that covers the risks and teaches the safe movements, relevant to your workers

2. Education does not equal effective training

Too often manual handling training (or any training for that matter) – focuses on telling people ‘what to do and how to do it’. 

This doesn't automatically equate to people knowing how to apply that information to the real world.

Showing and telling an individual how to use their bodies safely while doing a task is not enough. Individuals need to feel the difference in their body when they do an action a safe way compared to an unsafe way.

Only when they experience the difference will they understand why the new movement is better – this is where true learning occurs.

Point 3 below takes this knowledge and makes it stick.

3. Be in it for the long haul

There is no one ‘quick fix’ for changing habits in any arena. Don’t make the mistake of investing in a training programme and thinking you have ticked the box.

In the case of preventing strain-sprain injuries, the aim is to change individuals’ movement habits and ensure they have safe ones.

This cannot be achieved by a one-off training programme and a few posters on the wall.  

The ONLY way to change a movement habit (and by habit, I mean what people do unconsciously without having to think about it) is practice.

If you want to make a long-term change and get the ROI from your training programme – be committed to having systems in place that encourage people to practice safe movement habits.