Australian warehouses are approaching their busiest time of year and unless steps are taken now to control manual handling risks, someone could get hurt.
WorkSafe Victoria is warning employers to make sure they are ready for the pre-Christmas rush or they will face human and commercial consequences.
Melbourne company Manassen Foods recently received its first conviction after nearly 60 years in business. It pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide a safe workplace, was fined $10,000 and ordered to pay court costs in excess of $5500.
Magistrate Maurice Gurvich said people performing order-picking work were among the vulnerable and needed protection from manual handling injuries.
A WorkSafe inspector saw workers at risk of manual handling injuries at the company’s Rowville warehouse in August 2005 and issued a safety improvement notice which had to be complied with by October.
WorkSafe returned in October and again in November to see if the notices had been dealt with, but only small changes had been made each time.
It was not until 23 December that, as a result of new racking being installed, the Improvement Notice was deemed to have been complied with.
According to WorkSafe manual handling was the biggest single source of workplace injuries.
The means of preventing such injuries are well established in order-picking and all other occupations. Repetitive movement, stretching and twisting are all major contributors to manual handling injuries.
Reducing this as far as possible, using mechanical means of moving stock or rotating people through different tasks can all be used to reduce risks to workers and the business.
With retail and logistics operations responding to increased workload by bringing in temporary or casual labour in the last few months of the year, existing risks are further magnified.
Failing to follow-up on Improvement Notices or breaching Prohibition Notices (not an issue in this case) were serious matters even if no one was hurt.
Fixing the problem promptly means everyone can get on with the job. Once the notices are complied with, that is generally the end of the matter.
The identified safety problem will not go away by itself. Consult with your workforce, take advice from WorkSafe, your peers or consultants - then fix it.
Cost to business of not addressing manual handling:
Across all industries in 2005-06, manual handling injuries accounted for 45% of the 30,000 injuries reported to WorkSafe Victoria. WorkSafe receives around 280 reports of injuries from manual order-picking alone each year. This cost around $11.5m in treatment, rehabilitation and compensation costs.
While the average workplace insurance premium has been cut by 10% in each of the past four financial years, high numbers of injuries result in increased premiums to individual businesses and industries.