Most businesses have a love-hate relationship with Manual Handling Training (MHT).

You know you have to do it …. but quite often it becomes one of those ‘boring’ safety programs that employees loathe and fails to deliver on its promises to miraculously change the way people work.

A summary of most people’s experiences?

  • Employees are told how they are ‘supposed’ to do things safely (lift, push, pull, not rush or take shortcuts) …. but fail to demonstrate any evidence of this knowledge while they are working.
  • Sprains and strains still dominate your workplace injury stats.
  • The worrying thought that as the workforce gets older … these headaches are only going to get bigger. [Thought to self: maybe I should work for a company who employs younger people?]

If you are interested in getting the most out of your MHT, achieve a meaningful return on your investment … or just want to implement a program that is useful, effective and embraced by employees, here are big ticket items …

#1 It can’t be the only trick up your sleeve

Too often, MHT is still seen as the primary weapon used to combat manual handling sprains and strains. Not only is it a lower order administrative control option … but it has to be really good to have any meaningful effect. And by really good, I mean a training session that has employees walking away with practical things that they can apply to their work, a sense that the company has added-value by providing use beyond work … and an employee response that has them coming up to you saying things like “that was much better than I thought it was … or … wish I had learnt that 20 years ago … or … I’ve been to every manual handling course over the last 30 years and I actually learnt heaps from that session”.

Does your MHT have that affect?

So what else do you need to have in place apart from MHT?

  • Process to identify manual handling risks
    Process to assess manual handling risks
    Process to control for these risks
    Process for ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement
    Otherwise known as a risk management model for handling [excuse the pun!] manual handling tasks. There are a range of tools out there that can be used.

Other weapons in your arsenal that will increase the rate of return of your MHT…

  • Regular discomfort surveys to give you an idea of how your employee population is travelling
  • Onsite treatment (or at least an arrangement with a local practitioner)
  • Health and wellbeing initiatives that dove-tail into your MHT (many of Move 4 Life’s customers focus on increasing the amount of physical activity of their employees (eg. Stepathlon) which synchronises with the message of needing to “MOVE more”)
  • Ageing workforce strategy (eg. a long-term physical resilience plan)
  • Have designated Champions to drive your Manual Handling Program. They should be equipped to do manual handling risk assessments, office workstation assessments behavioural observations and hold one-on-one coaching conversations with employees on a daily basis.

#2 It needs to address the behavioural elements

Teaching techniques and expecting employees to absorb and comply does not create change.
A person’s manual handling techniques (that is, how someone moves and interacts with their environment) is strongly behavioural. Movements that are learnt over time, highly habitual and influenced by their environment (physical and cultural).

Positively influencing employee manual handling techniques is similar to the many issues companies face when introducing new PPE.

To effectively address behavioural elements, your MHT should:

  • Acknowledge that the way people move is highly habitual and largely sub-conscious
  • Make people aware of their movement behaviour and give them an opportunity to audit it (that is, figure out whether it is safe and efficient OR whether it is the cause of their injuries)
  • Provide reinforcement of positive behaviours OR generate an alternative strategy (preferably one they come up with) and get them to choose.
  • Repeat Steps 1 & 2 until new behaviour has been established. Repetition is the mother of new skill and habit after all.

It’s a classic adult learning methodology and it can lead to long-term sustainable change.

#3 It needs to teach up-to-date techniques

If your MHT teaches “Bend your knees, keep your back straight” then it’s time to update.

Quick tip … this technique has been shown scientifically to be unstable, not allow efficient use of the muscles you are supposed to use (your legs) and accelerates the wear and tear on the knees.

Many MHT programs are still teaching outdated techniques using the same old rhetoric that has been used for the last 40 years.

To ensure your MHT is up-to-date, the content should:

  • Include a risk management approach.
  • Encompass the WHOLE body … not just backs. That means shoulders, hands, knees, necks and even things like breathing.
  • Be so much more than lifting a box. It should relate to specific work tasks PLUS everyday tasks at home and on the sporting field.
  • Be more practical and less theory (we use an 80% practical and 20% theory ratio in Move 4 Life).
  • Not be recommending back belts.
  • Use terms like functional movement.

BTW – stay away from Manual Handling DVDs … most are still using out-of-date techniques and, even if they were up to date, people do not change their behaviour because they watch a video. Of course, they do allow you to tick the compliance box if that is the primary objective … although there is no benefit for your employees there.

#4 It needs a sustainable system built-in

MHT commonly falls into the “Launch and Leave” category of workplace programs. That is … all the attention and fanfare in the world gets focussed on launching a program … only to be “left” to its own devices. This most often result is an underperforming strategy that does not provide any meaningful return on investment.

Behavioural based programs need to nurtured … supported … invested in. Don’t expect a miraculous return without a sustainability system built in. Echoing the words of a popular shampoo advertisement: “it won’t happen overnight … but it will happen” provided you drip feed information to keep it top of mind amongst employees.

At Move 4 Life we talk about sustainability in 2 phases. After the successful launch of the initial training phase (where you get employees to buy into you message and approach), we provide employees an opportunity to be lead and coached – either by their MOVE trainer or in-house “MOVE Champions”. For our program this also incorporates the implementation of a movement routine that can be done (in or out of work time) DAILY to accelerate the behaviour change element.

Secondly, you MHT needs to be integrated into your existing business systems. Ideas for this include:

  • Incorporating techniques into Behavioural Safety Observations
  • Toolbox talks
  • Keynote presentation at company conferences
  • Re-doing Safe Operating Procedures or Safe Work Method Statements to include new techniques or language
  • Poster campaigns
  • Newsletters
  • Monthly themed topics
  • Family and Friend sessions (one of our regional customers ran some Move 4 Life training for employee family and friends … believing that behaviour change is as much about getting help from your immediate support network, as it is from work)
  • The idea is to integrate the language and principles into the business. You will know that your sustainability strategy is successful if people start saying “it’s just part of the way we do things here!”

#5 It needs to entertain (and ideally capture hearts and minds)

businessman clown 200x300In today’s fast-paced, information-rich world it’s taken for granted that any successful training initiative will need to be entertaining. It’s a key component of capturing hearts and minds.
Why then does MHT have a reputation of being boring or at worst, an opportunity to catch a quick 40 winks?

The reason is plain and simple… that’s exactly what most people’s experience has been! Dry, uninspiring material, dominated by too much theory and not enough practice, delivered by people who don’t have the ability to capture the attention of participants, delivering techniques that are not only unrealistic, but could be potentially causing them harm!

Question is … how do you ensure this happens?

  1. It needs to entertain
    • Do whatever you need to do capture the audience’s attention and imagination. After all, it makes it really hard to convey your message if you don’t. Whether you use drama, comedy, confronting viewpoints, thrills or suspense – use something.
    • In Move 4 Life, we use a mix of comedy and confronting viewpoints. Challenging commonly held myths about the human body (etiquette is our favourite topic) is what we are all about … plus there are a few trusty gags that our trainers have been rolling out for years!
  2. It needs to cater to all 3 learning styles
    • Ideally, MHT should be visual (images and pictures – not PowerPoint if you can avoid it), auditory (spoken face-to-face) and kinaesthetic (plenty of practical doing exercises and experiments)
    • Note: if you think your workforce has a dominant preference, eg. physical work tends to correlate to a kinaesthetic learning preference, then that should dominate your teaching style.
  3. Use stories to convey your message
    • It is human nature to tell and share stories. After all, there is a reason that fables (like The Boy Who Cried Wolf) are not only long lasting and wide spread but used to convey a specific message. Why should MHT be any different?
    • Use personal stories – positive ones as well as the horror stories.
    • In Move 4 Life, we use the “we should move more like kids” line which seems to resonate with our audience.
  4. Tips and techniques should apply to work, home and play
    • Why should you talk about home and play? Because your audience cares about it. Show how they can use your MHT for their own personal benefit and you are more likely to capture their attention. After all, they are likely to be sitting there thinking “What’s in it for me?”
  5. Key messages need to be ‘sticky’
    • This is a well-used marketing term that refers to words, language or ideas that stick in the minds of people. They need to be fun, visual and meaningful to the audience.
    • In Move 4 Life, “Chicken Wings” and “Butt Out” are commonly cited as the stickiest of messages.