This penultimate element in Unit B concerns musculoskeletal risks. Whilst musculoskeletal risks encompass a wide range of ergonomic considerations, this element focuses most of its attention on manual handling and display screen equipment – which reflects the specific emphasis given by legislation. Little has changed here but there is now much clearer reference to the range of helpful tools on the manual handling side of things.
As you’re probably aware, HSE have developed quite a few helpful tools over the years. HSE have been keen to stress that these tools are not, in themselves, risk assessments, but contribute towards it.
For example, the long-standing suite of manual handling tools includes a handy diagram that shows stylised men and women surrounded by zones with maximum weights in them – for lifting, lowering and carrying operations. This is not intended to communicate the extreme embarrassment of “painting yourself into a corner” with boxes around you (so you can no longer find the exit). No, the idea is that you observe the task and keep an eye out for where the hands travel through these zones to help you determine whether you can do a relatively quick risk assessment or whether you need to do a more detailed one. But those diagrams are not a risk assessment – in fact they only really look at some aspects of the load (specifically the weight) and some aspects of the task. There are quite a few assumptions, so it’s use as a pre-filter, if you like, is limited. The guidance itself reminds you there’s a lot more going on, so you also need to take account of individual characteristics (e.g. different people can lift different amounts), other task characteristics (e.g. twisting) the environment (e.g. state of the floor) and other things such as training. So, it’s an aid, not a substitute, to helping you make risk assessments proportionate to the risk (and evidently, working within those guidelines does indeed lower the risk compared to using heavier weights).
The same principle applies with the Manual Handling Assessment Charts (MAC), and indeed the “TILE/LITE” checklist in the appendix to the ACoP – again, observation based checklists but with the warning they only apply to certain types of tasks and they’re not the whole risk assessment. Similarly the display screen checklists (appendix to the HSE guidance) make life easier and more systematic (as checklists often do) but they are not the whole risk assessment – and the legal duty is to assess tasks etc that cannot be avoided but where there is a (significant) risk of injury. The fact that the risk assessment needs to be suitable and sufficient is simply a handy reference to it being proportionate to the risk (simple risks = simple methods) and it not missing anything important (covering all the significant risk factors). I like the fact that the HSE make the point that you need to get a bit of practice with these tools – and provide some videos for you to practice on. That’s the real point that tools can make a tool out of you if you don’t know how to use them.