New Code to Help Reduce Manual Handling Risk

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One of the most important documents for helping businesses improve their workplace safety is now available. It is Victoria’s Hazardous Manual Handling Compliance Code 2017.

This legal document developed by leading OHS regulator WorkSafe Victoria raises the standard on what employers should do to reduce injuries related to manual handling, the major cause of injuries in workplaces. It aims to make it much easier for employers to understand the problem and come up with solutions.

The document builds on Victoria’s benchmark Manual Handling Code of Practice 2000. This pioneered a more practical approach to the complexities of workplace ergonomics, workplace and work process design and risk assessment.

The old document is still highly regarded. It was the basis for the national model Code of Practice for Hazardous Manual Handling Tasks 2011 developed by the Federal Government’s Safe Work Australia (SWA) OHS policy body for national use. The national code has been adopted by all jurisdictions except Victoria which believed its old code still contains important advice.

WorkSafe Victoria’s Compliance Code for Hazardous Manual Handling has jumped ahead of the national model document on understanding the hazard and risk and how to implement practical solutions to reduce manual handling injuries and avoid the costly workers compensation claims that often result. The bonus is often improvement in productivity.

The Victorian compliance code is available in its public comment form. The regulator is currently considering comment from employers, unions and the OHS community on the content and what if any changes should be made. Since the public was widely consulted on the code’s development there is unlikely to be any major changes.

The document will be approved by the Minister responsible for WorkSafe Victoria, Robin Scott, in December under the Victoria’s standalone Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. From then on failure to follow the guidance in the code may be used in legal proceedings against Victorian employers found to be putting employees at risk of a manual handling injury.

The code has been made to support the introduction of Victoria’s updated Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017. The regulations included a section on hazardous manual handling to which the new compliance code refers in detail. Employers who follow the code to eliminate or reduce risk will effectively have complied with this law.

The Victorian code won’t have any legal OHS status outside Victoria but has contributed significantly to improving “state of knowledge” on the subject in Australian workplaces. This is what an employer is expected to know about this hazard and risk and ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury. That’s a critical test all regulators make when their inspectors see manual handling risk at any workplace they visit, before determining the type of enforcement action they may take to ensure the employer is complying with safety law.

According to WorkSafe Victoria the new code in based on its widely used old code and draws on some more recent information from the national code. After consulting with the working community during drafting, WorkSafe has included more industry specific examples and more information on the effects of work demands. “The code is now more succinct and streamlined,” WorkSafe says, “and reflects changes to the state of knowledge as well as advancements in the ways to control the risks associated with hazardous manual handling.”

The major legal change to the document is less emphasis on “risk assessment”. This duty was deleted from safety laws in 2007 because employers were being bogged down in paperwork and many did not have the required technical knowledge. The other reason for dropping risk assessment was that advances in materials handling made the duty obsolete.

Manual handling compliance is now focussed on identifying risk and selecting appropriate risk control measures from among the many materials equipment and handling aids that are now available and much more cost effective.

The code states that a risk assessment may be necessary if more complex work practices have to be examined in detail to assess if the work has been arranged in a way that gives rise to risk. “A formal risk assessment in unnecessary if knowledge and understanding about the risk and how to control it already exist,” the code says.

The code goes on the say that if an employer is unsure about the best way to control a risk, a risk assessment may help. This process involves examining tasks for postures, movements and forces, duration and frequency of the task and the workplace environment.

In choosing the most effective control measures, the code advises employers to check against the “current state of knowledge and what is known to be most effective”. This includes technical standards and information available from suppliers.

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