The most common injury at work for cleaning staff is caused by manual handling. A survey carried out by Health & Safety Executive found that 20 per cent of cleaners using floor-buffing machines, mops and vacuum cleaners needed time off work because of aches and pain caused by using the equipment. The survey showed that over half of all cleaners had sought medical advice because of injuries.
But it is not only the equipment that can cause a manual handling injury. Anyone can suffer a back injury if they lift a load wrongly, if the weight shifts, or if the lifting is repeated regularly. Lifting is a major part of a cleaner’s job they are expected to lift bins, bags and equipment regularly.
Employers are required by law to prevent manual handling injuries.
In brief, the regulations state that employers must do the following:
■ Avoid hazardous manual handling operations as far as is reasonably practicable.
■ Assess any hazardous operations that cannot be avoided.
■ Remove or reduce the risk of injury using the risk assessment as the basis for action.
■ Give full training to any employee who has to lift or move any load.
Safety representatives can ensure that employers prevent or minimise manual handling injuries to cleaning staff by taking the following steps:
■ Talk to cleaning staff to find out what loads they handle, how often, what type, what weight, how far they lift them and with what help.
■ Check that the employer’s policy on manual handling includes cleaning staff.
■ Ask cleaners who have a back problem whether they think it was caused, or made worse, by lifting, carrying or the equipment they use you might want to think about carrying out a proper survey.
■ Check the accident book and sickness records are there any incidents recorded involving cleaners who have suffered back problems caused by lifting or manual handling? Cleaners should also be encouraged to report any injuries or accidents.
■ Make your own investigation of the workplace and list all the tasks which involve lifting, carrying or moving. It may be useful to target inspections so that they cover all the shifts that cleaning staff work.
■ Notify your employer of any unsafe or unhealthy manual handling work that you have identified.
Make sure that action is taken on every point raised.
Remember to keep cleaners informed at every stage of the process. Individuals often think they are the only person suffering from back pain. Many do not even relate it to their work. By sharing information on sickness records and back problems, cleaning staff can become much more aware of how important manual handling issues are, and may even become interested in taking on the role of a safety rep.