The HSE way2 October 2003
A new assessment tool is designed to help determine when manual handling is too risky. Will Dalrymple reports
How should you assess the risks of manual lifting? One solution that we have previously reported on is the Ergonomics Toolbox from the Materials Handling Industry of America (Hoist 28, p23). An alternative method has now been produce by the UK government's Health & Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE has launched a flowchart scheme to assess the risks of manual lifting operations. Like the Ergonomics Toolbox, it aims to highlight high-risk procedures, and so might help companies establish when manual lifting procedures will need to be replaced with a crane. Called the manual handling assessment chart (MAC), it grades risk in terms of colours ranging from green on the safe end to purple on the risky end and in a cumulative numerical score. The higher the number, the higher the risk.
"The MAC allows you to 'score' an assessment which means you can rank individual assessments, decide which are the greatest risks and take action on these first," says Graham Reeves, occupational hygienist with British Petroleum's HSE Group Resource, who helped develop the tool.
On a page of Q&A about the document at www.hse.gov.uk/msd/mac, the HSE says that it developed the document to fit within its own regulatory regime. "Musculoskeletal risks do not fit easily within HSE's Enforcement Management Model [EMM] framework, which makes it difficult to apply the EMM to the assessment of MSDs. This is due, in part, to a lack of clearly defined exposure-response relationships," it says.
"It is very difficult to grade which actions will be a serious risk of injury because of individual differences," HSE senior scientific officer Chris Quarrie tells Hoist.
The website goes on to explain: "HSE has developed the MAC as an alternative means to help inspectors identify and assess high risk manual handling activities and take the necessary actions to secure compliance. Although no more scientifically robust, it is believed to be a user friendly assessment tool better able to serve the principles of the EMM framework." The tool is based on research published in scientific journal Ergonomics by Stover Snook and Vincent Ciriello in 1991.
Elsewhere, the HSE argues that the MAC is not a complete risk assessment. A full risk assessment would also take into account an individual's health problems or the need for special information and training. The documentation says that the user should also consider issues such as body size and individual competence specific to the individual doing the lifting, and the social and emotional aspects of the workplace, such as deadline pressure and the amount of control over the work or working methods. The HSE recommends that the MAC document should be used with the MAC should be used with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992: guidance on regulations (L23). The se regulations are due for revision in the next six months, but the HSE said that the revision would not affect the MAC.