How to Minimise Risk of Sprains and Strains in Construction

The risk of sprains and strains is heightened by the fact that most often this type of injury goes unattended by workers because they believe they will go away with time. Unfortunately this is most often not the case and a sprain or strain becomes worse and starts to take its toll on a worker’s health.

Sprains, strains and manual handling injuries are the most common types of injuries that occur on worksites and often they deteriorate because of lack of attention.

Poor manual handling is a major problem and while no site is free from the hazards of manual handling, by knowing how to minimise the risks of manual handling workers can reduce its harmful effect on the body.

Although manual handling injuries are common, people normally don’t take them seriously because they don’t disfigure or immediately kill someone but they are often long term, debilitating and can be extremely costly.

The typical construction activities that can cause injury are:

  • Manual handling: the biggest cause of injury is manual handling, which includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying;
  • Repetitive tasks: handling heavy objects is not the only cause of injury. Harm can also result from doing a task repetitively, even if the load is relatively light (e.g. bricklaying), or where the person’s body position is awkward
  • Other high risk tasks such as block laying, handling pipework, laying kerbs and paving slabs, moving and installing plasterboard and installing mechanical and electrical equipment at height.

Correct manual handling techniques are crucial in avoiding sprains and strains. Manual handling is any activity involving the use of muscular force to lift, move, push, pull, carry, hold or restrain any object. Sprains and strains are caused by more than just lifting weight and contrary to what many people think, it can affect more than just a worker’s back.

Before manually lifting or handling a load workers should consider if it is absolutely necessary to manually handle the load or if the load can be transported using a mechanical means or wheel barrow for example. If the load cannot be lifted mechanically, consider whether a co-worker can assist with lifting of the load, instead of lifting it alone.

The load should only be lifted if the worker is physically capable of doing so, workers with prior injuries should not attempt to lift loads that will worsen their injuries.

Employers must ensure workers on construction sites have received the necessary training on proper lifting and manual handling.

While a risk assessment will provide more detailed information on procedures and what can be undertaken to overcome this hazard these are some of the tips that can be administered on smaller sites:

  • Avoid unnecessary lifting and carrying by positioning loads by machine and plan where they need to be put so that minimum transportation is needed
  • Avoid heavy materials that could cause problems if they need to be moved by hand. Choose lighter materials, order smaller bags of cement and aggregates. Keep materials such as concrete blocks dry.
  • Make sure workers are trained to use lifting equipment and other aids safely and in a way that does not cause injuries.
  • Consider the size, strength and training of those needed for those doing the lifting;
  • Hire lifting equipment to lighten the load
  • Avoid repetitive lifting, handling heavy building blocks or other masonry units and installing heavy lintels by hand.