Did you know that one of the most common injuries in the workplace are back and spine injuries, with one of the main reasons for them being material handling? The improper treatment and storing of materials or performing related operations often results in costly injuries and should be specifically addressed in work instructions. Whether moving materials manually or mechanically, your employees should be aware of potential risks with the task at hand and know the strategies to minimize the danger. On the other side, employers are responsible for ensuring safety and focus on creating effective work instructions for material handling.

What is material handling?

Material handling includes any good moving within a storage area. These actions are loading, unloading, palletizing, de-palletizing, etc. It is either manual, semi-automated or manual, depending on the involvement of employees. The more manual the task, the higher the risk.

Material handling instructions are very important in warehouses

How to structure your work instructions for material handling?

The underlying theme throughout your material handling work instructions should be on taking actions to prevent accidents. If you don’t know where to start, an idea is, to begin with the basics and later narrow it down to specific operations.

In the introductory part, focus on providing an understanding of what the risks in handling are and what precautions should employees take to prevent them. Address at least the following topics:

  • What should your employees know before moving, handling, and storing materials?
  • What are the potential hazards?
  • Which precautions should your employees follow?
  • How to report an injury?

Here you can also add the topics of ergonomics as a study of how the work environment should be adapted to the employees and the importance of training for material handling.

Important safety measures

Continue with listing important safety measures regarding material handling. Make sure you list all operations that include goods handling and further specify the precautions for each. You can divide this part into more sections, focusing on manual and automated handling separately.

If you’re discussing manual material handlings, your work instructions should include basic principles on what to do and what to avoid when moving materials manually. Provide the rules for manual material handling (a full list can be found here):

  • keep the correct posture; keep lifts close to your body and avoid bending over;
  • avoid sudden lift movements;
  • never lift from a sitting position or twist your spine while lifting;
  • ask your coworkers to help you if you see lifting an object is a two-person job;
  • don’t overestimate your capabilities.

If, on the other hand, handling requires the help of machinery (e.g. cranes, industrial trucks, conveyors,…), you should provide instructions on how to operate the loaded machines. Here is an example of safety measures employees should consider while using cranes:

  • always check what you’re lifting and how much it weighs;
  • inspect the crane’s load chart to prevent it being overloaded;
  • plan lifts before the actual operation;
  • daily inspect the critical parts of a crane.

It is difficult to fit all information your material handling work instructions should focus on into a blog post, that’s why we provide you with two examples from OSHA and the University of Saskatchewan. We’re sure they’ll give you a clear idea of how a good work instruction for material handling should look like.