In-house transport and handling

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Pia Perttula, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland


Introduction

In-house transport and material handling, either manual or mechanical are carried out to some extent in almost all workplaces. An increase in the amount of materials being transported from one place to another also increases the risk of accidents. Material transfers can be facilitated when companies provide transfer devices, such as forklifts, trucks and push carts and an appropriate layout design and training for safe transport. It is important to utilise transfer devices since they can prevent over-exertion by workers. Lifting, carrying, pulling and pushing places extreme strains on the musculoskeletal system.


Accident risks of in-house transport and handling

In-house transport and transfer of materials is daily performed in different modes. Typical safety risks for in-house transport are listed in table 1.

In house transfers can happen, among others, in container reception, goods flows in retail, manufacturing or logistic centres. The items to be transferred may vary, but the accident risks are mainly the same regardless of the product being transferred. Recognising the accident risks associated with in-house transport and materials handling is the key element in preventing related accidents. After recognition of the risks, the specified preventive measures can be initiated in order to manage those risks. Material transfers are carried out in almost all workplaces in some form or other, either manually or mechanically.

Table 1. Overview of typical risks of in-house transport and handling

Risk type Risk factor
Working environment
  • Tidiness
  • Lightning
  • Visibility
  • Condition of routes
  • Marking routes/signs
  • Noise
  • Technical devices
Physical
  • Characteristics of the load (weight, shape, stability)
  • Ergonomic risks
  • Weather conditions
  • Falling and collapsing objects
  • Problems in working environment (e.g. layout and process design, timing)
Chemical
  • Dangerous substances transferred
Mental
  • Continuous alertness
  • Stress


Source: Overview by the author

Risks of manual handling and in-house transport

Manual material transfer is a common cause of workplace injuries [1]. Typical manual material transfer injuries are related to the way the materials are handled, to job design and to the physical condition and characteristics of individual workers. Risk factors involved in manual materials handling include the characteristics of the load, the physical effort to move it, the working environment, and the requirements of the handling activity [2]. Typically accidents related to material transfers, such as falling from a height and injuries caused by falling and collapsing objects, cause more serious damages to the workers and the physical environment than other accidents (not related to transfer) in the workplace. In addition, manual material transfers cause many minor accidents, mostly due to over-extension when reaching for objects [3]. The risks are similar for both in-house transport and any other transport.

Manual handling operations are hazardous, typically causing musculoskeletal problems especially to the lower back [4]. Working with loads which require that both hands are above shoulder height may cause a loss of balance [5]. The most common risk factors in manual materials handling are as follows [6]:

  1. Characteristics of the load to be handled:
    • Weight and shape (too heavy or too large, unwieldy or difficult to grasp),
    • Stability (unstable or has contents likely to shift, positioned in a manner requiring it to be held or manipulated at a distance from the trunk of the body, or with a bending or twisting of the trunk),
    • Potentially damaging (likely, because of its contours and/or consistency, to result in injury to workers, particularly in the event of a collision)[6],
  2. Physical effort required:
    • Too strenuous,
    • Only achieved by a twisting movement of the trunk,
    • Likely to result in a sudden movement of the load,
    • In an unstable posture.
  3. The requirements of the handling activity:
    • Over-frequent or over-prolonged physical effort involving in particular the spine,
    • An insufficient bodily rest or recovery period,
    • Excessive lifting, lowering or carrying distances,
    • A rate of work imposed by a process which cannot be altered by the worker.
  4. Individual factors when the worker:
    • Is physically unsuited to the task,
    • s wearing unsuitable clothing, footwear or other personal effects,
    • Does not have adequate or appropriate knowledge or training [6], [2].

Risks of mechanical handling and in-house transport

Mechanical transfer also poses a high risk to workers [3]. See table 2 for typical in-house transports and accident types. The vehicles being used to transfer materials may have visibility problems, and there are also hazards related to traffic and the movement of several vehicles and people in the same area simultaneously. Forklifts are typically used in in-house transport work, and are involved in many accidents particularly when reversing. Inadequate training and warning signs, poor truck maintenance, insufficient lighting and lack of space increase the likelihood of accidents [2]. Speed, even low speed, is a risk factor in mechanical in-house transport [3]. Velocity typically increases level of the damages.

Musculoskeletal disorders, such as lower back problems, are also a risk in mechanical transfer: Sitting for prolonged periods is risky for workers, and when stepping on or off the vehicle there is a risk of hurting one’s feet.

The characteristics of the load in mechanical transfers cause additional risks, if:

  • the load is not straight and stable,
  • the height of the load exceeds the limit of the height of the shelves,
  • the weight of the load exceeds the capacity of the vehicle.

Table 2: Typical transports and common accident types in workplace transport

Typical in-house transports Typical accident types
  • cars and vans,
  • forklift trucks,
  • Light and Heavy Goods Vehicles (LGV, HGV),
  • industrial trucks and dumper trucks,
  • mobile equipment,
  • straddle carriers,
  • rubber-tyred gantries,
  • self-propelled machinery,
  • motorcycles and bicycles.
  • people struck by a moving vehicle,
  • people falling from a vehicle,
  • people injured while inside a vehicle during a collision,
  • materials falling from a vehicle onto a person,
  • collapse/overturn of a vehicle (injuring the driver).


Source: Adapted from IOSH [7]


Other risks

Risks of dangerous substances for in-house transport

Lack of awareness of the nature of transported products, ignorance due to lack of training and poor labelling, inappropriate storage and handling may, for example, cause risks for in-house transport of dangerous substances. The key is to have appropriate storage and transport design and have those employees involved in the transport and handling of dangerous products trained in the safe handling of these products ([8] pp. 135-155).

Stress - Mental risks of in-house transport

Excessive pressure at any work can lead to stress, and undermine work performance and cause health risks to workers themselves and potential risks to others due to unsafe behaviour at workplace. For example, not enough time to pick materials for transport or make deliveries, poorly arranged work schedules and resources may cause stress for people in in-house transport work ([8], pp. 15-19).

Shared risks

Common risks in the working environment in both manual and mechanical in-house transfers are:

  • Space constraints: there is not enough room to carry out the activity,
  • Surface of the ground: the floor is uneven, thus presenting tripping hazards, or is slippery in relation to the worker's footwear, the floor or foot rest is unstable,
  • Working height: the place of work or the working environment prevents the handling of loads at a safe height or with good posture by the worker,
  • Various (surface or floor) levels: there are variations in the level of the floor or the working surface, requiring the load to be manipulated on different levels,
  • Environmental conditions: the temperature, humidity or ventilation is unsuitable,
  • Transferred materials/items pose danger: inadequate knowledge on chemical and biological hazards, etc.
  • Work arrangements and stress: time pressure in rush deliveries, shift work, etc.


Risk prevention of in-house transport and handling

Key measures for preventing the risks of in-house transport and materials handling are:

  1. Avoiding the hazards if possible,
  2. Conducting a risk assessment of hazardous operations that cannot be avoided,
  3. Taking action to reduce the risks of injury that the assessment identifies [9].

This means that when in-house transport requires manual handling, then if one adopts an ergonomics approach that they should be planned in such a way as to minimise hand distances, decrease the loads for lifts, lowers and carries, decrease the frequency of tasks and the distances needed for carries, pushes and pulls. In addition, adequate technical devices should be provided, and the working environment should be designed (providing safety and health signs where hazards cannot be avoided, etc.) and maintained according to the requirements of safety regulations [2], [10].

The responsibility for employers to provide safe working environment and for the workers to behave according to the safety rules of their work place are included in the European legislation. Methods for preventing in-house transport and handling accidents include ergonomic and technical solutions, providing workplace and task specific training and organisational measures (e.g. safety plans, guidance …) and co-operating with all actors in the workplace/environment. These are described in the following sub-chapters. [10]

Legislation

European legislation and strategies exists to protect workers' safety and general health, such as Community Strategy 2007-2012 [11], Council Directive 89/391/EEC [12] and Council Directive 89/654/EEC [13], regardless the specific sector of work. European legal requirements relating to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) define conventions and standards for materials handling during in-house transport activities. For example, the Council Directive 90/269/EEC on manual handling of loads [6] focuses on reducing the risk of musculoskeletal diseases in handling of loads. The Directive states [Annex I]: "Where the need for the manual handling of loads by workers cannot be avoided, the employer shall take the appropriate organizational measures, use the appropriate means or provide workers with such means in order to reduce the risk involved in the manual handling of such loads". In addition to the directives at the European level, there are also national laws which aim to reduce the risk of diseases and injuries at work [2] [10], [14].

Work environment

An appropriate working environment is crucial for safe in-house transport and material handling. Material transfer requires space and a tidy work environment, and suitable lighting, proper signs and markings for transport routes in order to be performed safely. For example, in the construction industry, it has been proved that almost half of the accidents, this includes in-house and in-site transport work, occurred partly because of poor housekeeping and problems with the site layout and lack of space available for working [15]. In addition, the maintenance and cleaning of transport routes need to be performed in such a way that does not cause slipperiness. Routes (both outside and in-house) also need to have even, undamaged surfaces, or if damaged, they need to be fixed in such a way that the surface is even. It is also essential to take the climate conditions, and possible sudden changes in the weather into consideration when planning in-house transport. Visibility should be checked in order to ensure safe passage through the workplace and to eliminate potential risks in hazardous places, such as junctions.

Health risks caused by noise can be prevented by providing adequate personal protective hearing equipment in cases when the noise cannot be eliminated or reduced. There are all ways of reducing the risk of slipping or having an underfoot accident whilst transferring a load. The work environment should be planned in a way that mechanical transportation of materials (e.g. by forklifts) can be performed in different routes than those used by pedestrians [10].

Many of these risks caused by use of transport vehicles can be prevented with correct work environment design and training workers in safety behaviour. Examples of these preventive methods are:

  • To avoid the need for reversing,
  • Ensure safe loading and unloading space,
  • Segregate pedestrian and vehicle traffic routes,
  • Ensure that suitable safety features, such as speed limit signs and pumps, edges of loading bays clearly marked, etc.,
  • Ensure that vehicles are properly maintenance, e.g. pre-check of brakes and lights [2].

In many workplaces the environment is challenged and changing due to changes in production process or design of the workplace layout. Especially in warehouses the working environment changes often as new items are stored, and this poses risks for both company workers and for those delivery workers who occasionally visit the site. This is why marking stored items clearly and in a consistent manner is a key safety action; the delivery workers need to find the correct place without searching and causing risks to other workers while moving in the work area. In addition, all site workers and delivery personnel need to be kept informed by the site supervisor which routes to use (see more under the following “Cooperation” chapter).

Ergonomics of material transfers

In-house transport and materials handling should be performed safely and also by following the rules of ergonomics, since these can help to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. Utilising transfer devices is important in preventing over-exertion by workers [16]. Pulling and pushing and lifting and carrying poses the greatest strain on the human musculoskeletal system. Manual transfer aids used for assisting in lifting or decreasing the need for carrying loads also have to be considered as long as they are ergonomically sound [10].

Mechanical devices can reduce the physical risk of over-exertion [17]. In addition, mechanical aids reduce the force required to shift heavy loads. The decision between choosing manual or mechanical materials handling is sometimes complex: (1) On one hand, manual material transfer causes lower back problems, for example because of heavy loads and the strain the weight placed on the human body. (2) On the other hand, mechanical material transfer can also cause lower back problems. For example, forklift drivers experience lower back problems because their work involves long-term sitting positions and vibration [18]. Mechanical material transfers also include other risks [18], such as crashing to other vehicles or people.

Technical devices

Material transfers can be performed more safely by using adequate technical devices, such as forklifts, pallet wagons or cranes [19]. Tasks that demand frequent lifting are associated with an increased risk of lower back pain [20]. The safety of in-house transport and materials handling can be improved by undertaking a thorough planning of lifting operations and adequate training for those using the lifting equipment. It is also essential to pay attention to selecting, inspecting and maintaining the lifting equipment or any other mechanical work device.

Technical help devices should be taken into use in order to avoid needless manual transfers [16], [21]. Machinery to support handling of loads and lifting aids need to be taken into use and workers need to be trained to use these aids in a correct way. The maintenance of the technical devices need to have a procedures as well in order to avoid the risks of using damaged devices[2].

Lifting equipment need to be inspected and maintained regularly. The maintenance should be extended to the lifting chains as well in order to prevent using dirty and corroded lifting chains. When lifting work is performed, the work area needs to be closed off from other traffic in order to prevent accidents caused by falling objects or collisions.

Safe use of forklift trucks should be ensured by providing adequate training for forklift users. Forklift trucks need regular maintenance. In addition, working environment should be planned in a way that there is enough space for forklift trucks to manoeuver[10].

Training

The employer should also provide appropriate training for personnel, because material transfer -related accidents can be prevented by improving work methods and learning better ways to operate with the others in the work team. Training workers to adopt correct positions when lifting objects can help to avoid back injuries [13, [16]. For example, preferring two person manual transfer techniques and using appropriate tools and devices for material transfers at workplaces are simple ways to prevent the risk of injury. However it needs to be noted that having two persons transfer materials may pose additional risk factors which will need further consideration.

Training workers in the correct way of using the devices and vehicles increases the safety of in- house transports. Training should be provided for all workers who use the vehicles and devices, and it is important that the employers ensure that the training procedures are kept up-to-date, and that all vehicle and device users should have adequate skills for using the equipment[10].

Organisational measures

The employer can improve the safety of material transfers by recognising and eliminating the hazards associated with in-house transport and materials handling [21].

Any incidents that occur during material transfers provide information that can to reduce future manual transfer accidents, and it is important that all accidents and near misses are reported and analysed by the safety management team. For example, in order to decrease the risk of accidents in material transfers, it might be possible to reduce the object weights or strength requirements of a task, and to increase the frequency of rest breaks [15].

An important issue in improving occupational safety in in-house transport and material handling is managing the transfers. Over-exertion is a common type of injury related to in-house transport and material handling. It has been studied that using appropriate devices in material transfers on a construction site can increase ergonomics, safety and efficiency [19]. Careful planning of the transfers and maintenance of transportation equipment are essential when the target is improving safety.

The prerequisite for safe in-house transport and materials handling is that the work is adequately organised. Organising work includes also planning of breaks which is an important point when attempting to prevent accidents [22]. There are a variety of guidelines and check lists for employers and managers, for example provided by EU-OSHA [2], [10] and the national occupational safety and health actors [7], [16], [8], [21], [23], to identify possible risks and improve the work environment and methods of in-house transport and materials handling.

Co-operation

Co-operation between various operators is important since it can improve the transfer of information about accident risks of in-house transport and manual handling. The occupational health care unit often holds the information of accidents and work-related sickness of the employees. Medical checks of workers could also include the consultation of possibilities to perform safer material transfers. Thus co-operation between the occupational health care, employer and employees could be one way to improve working conditions into safer direction. (Occupational health units are more common in large scale organisations, however small-scale enterprises (SMEs) may co-operate with outside service providers. This varies in different countries).

Material transfer -related accidents should not be seen as an inevitable part of workers' "bad luck", because these accidents are more likely to be caused by operations that can be improved. Once the occupational health care has the information about accidents and health status of the workers, the health care unit should use this information in consultation with the employer for example about the importance of work time arrangements and appropriate materials transfer equipment [22].

Workers from different employers may be performing tasks within each workplace, for example trucks bring and pick up materials. The trucks are driven by external workers, but they need to access to workplaces and they use the routes utilized by permanent workers. In addition to driving, drivers face accident risks in loading and unloading operations in clients’ workplaces and the working environment may not be familiar to the drivers. Site rules should be generally known and accepted by all who work in the area. The importance of the clear signs where to stop the vehicle for loading or unloading decrease the need of unnecessary driving in the client's workplace area. If the driver has to concentrate on looking for the right place to unload, this may decrease his/her attention to the other areas where there maybe workers. In addition to unfamiliar working environment, loading and unloading are often performed under tight schedules and quickly, possibly without appropriate devices, all of which may increase risk-taking behaviour. The co-operation of companies that operate in the same area needs to be considered carefully in order to create a safe and risk free work environment for all parties operating in the site. Within a workplace, the common rules should be clear for all workers who are working in the area, including the subcontractors [21].


Conclusions

Safety issues of in-house transport and materials handling are more and more relevant in today’s changing business world. The life cycle of products is shorter than ever before and the current trend in 2013 is to replace damaged or broken items by new ones instead of fixing the old ones. Companies are using subcontractors and even the smallest parts may need to be transferred for production from one place to another. This increases the amount of in-house transport and material handling in the workplace.

The wide variety of different materials makes it complicated to recognise how each one should be handled. Many products need unique means of transportation. This increases the importance of better and more focused risk assessment in order to recognise the OSH risks associated with handling different types of materials (see table 1 in the beginning).

Each workplace has its unique challenges in managing the safety of in-house transport and materials handling. The presence of several contractors and subcontractors working in the same location clearly raises the need for unambiguous site rules. Information should be clearly available about core issues, e.g. which routes to use, which devices and vehicles are on the site, when devices can be on-site, etc. Careful planning of the logistics increases the safety of site workers, also of those workers who are only temporarily visiting the site.


References

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  19. 19.0 19.1 Perttula, P., Korhonen, P., Lehtelä, J., Rasa, P-L., Kitinoja, J-P., Mäki-mattila, S., Leskinen, T., ‘mproving the Safety and Efficiency of Materials Transfer at a Construction Site by Using an Elevator’, J Constr Engrg and Mgmt, 132(8), 2006, pp. 836-43.
  20. Kuiper, J., Burdorf, A., Frings-Dresen, M., Kuijer, P., Spreeuwers, D., Lötters, F., Miedema, H., Assessing the work-relatedness of nonspecific low-back pain, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 31, 2005, pp. 237-243.
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Links for further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2007). Prevention of work-related MSDs in practice. Retrieved 24 January 2013, from: [15]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2013). All Publication Items on Musculoskeletal Disorders. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from: [16]

HSE (2011). Workplace transport safety. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from: [17]

Directive 2008/68/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 September 2008 on the inland transport of dangerous goods, OJ L 260, 30.9.2008, p. 13–59. Available at: [18]

European Committee for Standardization (2009). Intelligent transport. Retrieved on 10 September 2013, from [19]