Whether you are running a manufacturing business or a logistics company, material handling is going to be a critical part of your day-to-day operations. Despite automation, many companies rely on manual material handling to move finished products or raw materials within gated premises.

You will need to use various types of equipment such as manual, automated, and semi-automated to move the objects. Safety should be your primary concern when moving finished goods or raw materials. Safe material handling practices will help you improve your productivity, keep your customers happy, increase market share, and most importantly keep your workforce safe. Workplace accidents are not only costly, they also give bad publicity to your business.

You should ask your employees to keep the following material handling basics in mind to avoid workplace accidents.

  1. Avoid unnecessary fatigue

The number one rule in material handling is to avoid unnecessary fatigue at all costs. Fatigue can lead to reduced performance, inefficient production, missed workdays, fatal employee injuries, and increased medical costs. Taking the following steps can help you avoid unnecessary fatigue:

  • Avoid awkward positions - You should avoid working in awkward positions such as bending or twisting as it can lead to fatigue or even injuries. If you are feeling cramped when moving the load, make sure to tell your supervisor or manager immediately. Rearranging the task or using lifting equipment may help reduce this risk factor.
  • Reduce repetitive motions - Repetitive motions, such as conveyor sorting, are also physically demanding. They can lead to muscle fatigue and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the long run. Avoid extended reach or extensive high or low lifting. You can provide your employees with tools to help reduce this stress or redesign the process.
  • Forceful exertions - Ask your employees to avoid forceful exertions like carrying, pulling, pushing, or lifting heavy loads. Modify your  material handling practices to help workers avoid overexertion. Rotating workers through jobs that use different muscles and body parts can also help you avoid unnecessary fatigue.
  1. Create a pre-shift warm-up program

A pre-shift warm-up program is one of the best ways to avoid workplace accidents or injuries, especially non-fatal ones such as MSDs. It helps improve muscular balance, reduce physical fatigue, and leads to better muscle coordination.

When you do warm-up or stretching, the blood supply to your joints and muscles increases. It also raises your soft tissue temperature, improving the elasticity of joints and muscles. Moreover, stretching decreases tightness in tendons and muscles, reducing the risk of joint injuries and degeneration. Having a warm-up program also sends a message to your workforce that you care about their health and safety first.

You should consult a physiotherapist or doctor to design a warm-up or stretching routine for your staff. The pre-shift warm-up must cover the body parts including foot, ankle, calf, hips, glutes, hip flexors, thoracic spine, and upper back. A complete warm-up routine can take just a few minutes before your shift begins.

  1. Take ergonomic precautions

Ergonomics is the key to ensuring safety during manual material handling. You should educate your employees to take the following precautions:

  • First, take a few minutes to understand how complicated the process is and how long the material handling task will take.
  • Make sure to plan the entire material handling operation from start to end. Map your route to make sure the intended path of movement is free of any obstacles.
  • When you are lifting a load, make sure to keep your feet apart to create a firm base. Always bend your knees, not your waist when picking something up.
  • Keep your shoulders in the same direction as your hips. Your back should be straight and chin tucked-in.
  • When lifting a load, your legs will form a boundary. Make sure to keep your arms within this boundary at all times.
  • Be sure to lift the load without any jerky or sudden movements as it can cause muscle or tendon injuries.
  • Know your physical limits. If you can’t move a load by yourself, ask for help. If necessary, use the appropriate material handling equipment like a crane or a forklift.
  • Get a spotter if you are unable to look around or over a load. To be on the safe side, have someone on standby during the material handling is in process.
  1. Wear suitable protective gear

To reduce the risk of workplace injuries further, educate your employees to wear suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, most workers on a construction site will be required to wear a safety helmet, protective jackets, glasses, boots, and even gloves depending on the task they are performing.

You may need to use protective gear to provide safety against physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate hazards during material handling as per OSHA standards. You will need to teach your workers how to use and look after their safety gear.

Ask them to follow these simple rules:

  • Employees must wear protective gear in the manner instructed.
  • Make sure not to cause damage or misuse the protective gear in any way.
  • Be sure to check their gear before and after each shift. Report any damage or malfunction in the protective equipment to the respective supervisor immediately, if it is detected.
  • If necessary, make sure the gear is cleaned before and after each use.
  • It should also be stored in a dry and clean place under lock and key.

Parting words

Despite using automated equipment and engineering systems, manual material handling is going to be a part of your manufacturing or warehousing operation. This is why it is absolutely necessary to train and educate your employees about safe material handling practices. Hopefully, the above tips will prove helpful in this regard. How do you make your workplace safer? Do you use any of these tactics? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section.