Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 89 – Safe Work Practices

I have been reviewing our Registrants Handbook over the last couple of weeks to make sure the information is correct. As usual we did need to make some changes – some of the legislation which impacts all of us has changed and there will be some more to come with the Fair Work Act. Although with recent changes to the head of Government announced, this may or may not happen – a case of wait and see.

For those of you who are still registered with IEA for employment opportunities, the most up to date information is available for reading and / or downloading from our website. Click on the employment tab and then click on Login – type in the login name and password sent to you when you registered. You will see the documents in the “information documents” section on the right hand side. Please note, we do remove login information from those who are not currently registered for employment opportunities to ensure our database is always up to date.

For the June edition we look at what constitutes safe work practices especially with regards to manual handling and lifting.

In this issue we will look at:
•    Safe work practices
•    Manual handling including lifting and carrying
•    Understanding risk in the workplace
•    Controlling risk in the workplace
•    What happens when disaster strikes?
•    Creating a Disaster Plan for your Organisation
•    Contents of a Disaster Bin

Safe Work Practices
I was comparing an exercise I was being asked to do at the gym with what is considered to be safe lifting practices at work and it made me stop and think.

Consider this for irony:

I can dead lift 40 kilos but I have to bend my knees and keep my back upright to pick up an archive box weighing less than 16. For those of you who don’t know what a dead-lift is – you keep your legs straight and bend at the waist – keeping the back flat – preferably at 90 degrees to the floor, assuming you are flexible enough. Then pick up a bar with weights at either end, stand up straight – without bending the knees, rolling the shoulders at the top, and then you lower the bar back to the floor – according to my trainer it strengthens the back and works the hamstrings.

Now I know I have had proper training and can perform the dead lift correctly, it just struck me as odd…..but don’t try that one at home to test my point. I just wondered if it came down to training, I know I certainly would not have attempted the dead lift for the first time on my own – even with a low weight – for fear of injury. But be honest, how many of us have had formal training with “weight lifting” in an office environment. Like you, I know the theory, and have watched the videos, but have you ever been shown what to do before being asked to perform the lift, and been corrected (where needed) – as you do with personal training? Would you remember to do it properly every time or would you, like most people, cut corners when it comes to moving boxes and other heavy “stuff”?

So how do you lift “properly?”

Well according to our own Registrants Handbook, we give the following explanation:

Manual handling, including lifting and carrying:
•    Assess the load – how heavy is it? Move it around, or check the box to see if the weight is written on it.
•    Get close to the load – move your body as close as possible.
•    Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
•    Relax your knees.
•    Lower your body and bend your knees – let your back bend if it wants to.
•    Lower your head otherwise you will put a strain on your neck.
•    Take a firm grip on the load you need to pick up.
•    Raise your head.
•    Straighten you legs.
•    Lift the load, holding the item close to your body.  

•    Make sure you turn your feet before you walk – don’t twist your body round (great way to pop knees, ankles and discs in your back).

Please note: A typical archive box recommends that no more than 16 kilos be placed in the box.  However, some people will not be able to lift this weight. If you consider the load of any box is too heavy, DO NOT attempt to lift it on your own, get assistance or get a trolley. Always lift within your own lifting capacity.

Given that back strain is one of the biggest causes for Occupational Health and Safety and Workers Compensation claims it does make me wonder why organisations don’t spend more time making sure we can lift properly.

Whilst we are looking at the Registrants handbook in some detail, manual handling is just one of the safe working practices we should be aware of, in reality we need to be aware of all the risks in the workplace.

Understanding risk in the workplace:
Risk in a workplace setting means understanding and handling “hazards”. As you know a hazard includes:

•    Falls – including falling objects, or people falling from height as well as slips & trips
•    Electricity – electrical current or lightening;
•    Manual Handling – overexertion or repetitive movement;
•    Extremes of temperature;
•    Machinery or equipment – being hit, hitting objects, being caught in or between machinery or equipment;
•    Hazardous substances, such as acids, hydrocarbons and asbestos;
•    Radiation e.g., Microwaves, lasers, UV, or welding arc flashes;
•    Biological Agents;
•    Psychological stress such as intimidation, violence, conflict or time pressure.

With that in mind, “Risk is the likelihood that a hazard will cause injury or disease in the way that it is used or occurs in the workplace and the severity of the injury or disease. Risk assessment is the process of evaluating the probability and consequence of injury and illness arising from exposure to an identified hazard or hazards.” Taken from “Guidelines for Managing Health & Safety in the Labour Hire Industry”; Workcover Corporation, 2001, p12

Controlling Risk in the Workplace:
Risk control involves the application of measures which in the first instance should aim to eliminate or remove the risk to health and safety e.g., removal of old and unsafe machinery.  Where this is not practicable, the risk needs to be minimised by applying one or a combination of the following control measures:
Substitution – replacing a hazard with a less hazardous option.  For example, replacing a solvent based substance with a water based one.
Engineering controls – involves applying engineering solutions to minimise exposure to hazards.  For example, providing footrests when table heights cannot be reduced and chair height needs to be adjusted to achieve the correct working height.
Administrative controls – Introducing work practices which limit exposure to the hazard.  For example, job rotation can be used in order to minimise the time one person is exposed to the problem.  Administrative controls are often applied in combination with other risk control measures.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – such as safety glasses, hearing protection and respirators are the least effective means of risk control as they cannot control the hazard, but simply minimises the operator’s exposure to the hazard so long as the PPE is used.  To be effective, PPE is only useful if it is – fitted correctly, supported by training in its use, maintenance and need, regularly cleaned, maintained and replaced. PPE should only be used for short term or emergency situations.  It is important to remember that if PPE is supplied it must be worn.

What happens when Disaster Strikes?

The recent storm in Perth highlighted some very interesting problems. Not only were most organisations unprepared for problems of that magnitude, a lot of organisations did not appear to have any kind of Disaster Plan and could not find the necessary equipment, including Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the people involved in the clean up. Lack of breathing masks and gloves being 2 of the biggest issues – why are breathing masks important? Well consider for instance mould spores. Given our climate, mould can start growing on cellulose based fibres within hours. As you know, the scale of water damage to quite a lot of collections, offices and organisations would have meant that a lot of people would have been subjected to hazardous working conditions for some time during the clean up. Add backfilling drains and overflowing pipes – and you can imagine the sort o horrors we would have been subjected to – why then do most organisations never have a pair of rubber gloves, or better yet a Disaster Bin prepared?

Two things to check and suggest if your current employer – including our contractors host employers don’t have them already in place:

1.    A Disaster Plan
2.    A Disaster Bin

Creating a Disaster Plan for your Organisation
Creating a disaster plan should have the backing and support from the entire organisation and should have input from each business unit, including the Library, Archives, Records Management and Information Systems teams. However,
The plan should contain:
•    Emergency Information Sheet – one page summary of immediate steps to be taken and individuals to be contacted.
•    Introduction to the plan – purpose, author, organisation and scheduled updates. The plan should be reviewed regularly and should take into account systems changes and upgrades and any changes to personnel and personal information including telephone numbers.
•    Communication Plan – (telephone tree) – include names, numbers, methods, alternatives – e.g., next of kin and chain of command – who to contact first etc – include – police and emergency services if you are the first person to notice the problem
•    Procedures for identification and declaration of disaster situation and initiation of the disaster response chain of command
•    Collection Priorities – locations and name/address of collection specialists e.g., IT
•    List of vital records – in a general sense a vital record is one, which proves ownership of property, equipment, vehicles and products and should include, contracts agreements and insurance documents, as well as financial data and personnel records. Without these records it is unlikely that a business will be able to resume operations and will ultimately cause the business to fail.
•    Provisions for training of team(s)
•    Checklist of pre-disaster actions – when disasters can have advance warning – e.g., hurricanes and floods – assign duties and backups
•    Instructions for response and recovery – Summary of steps for the recovery and salvage of material.  When determining the risk associated with your organisation it is useful to summarise the procedures/steps for each “likely” occurrence.
Should also include:
•    Recovery team members
•    List of sources of back up resources, include expertise, tradespeople, materials, equipments, vehicles and accommodation. For example – Where to get spare computers, setting up an alternative office, organizing the recovery of back up tapes from secure offsite storage and re-loading – depending on how often you backup and to where will determine how much critical day-to-day and other records have been lost – If the “disaster” occurs during office hours and routine back up does not occur until the evening/over night, the loss could be significant.
•    Rehabilitation – Procedures for activities including marking and labeling, rebinding and repair, re-housing manuscript/archival material, sorting and re-housing, smoke/soot removal, cleaning etc.
•    Multiple copies of record keeping forms, including inventory, packing lists etc
•    Plans – covering all aspects including exits, windows, fire extinguishers and alarms, sprinklers, smoke detectors, water, gas, priority collections
•    Accounting info – funds available for recovery effort and procedures/authorisation for access.
•    Insurance info – coverage, claim procedures, record keeping requirements, state/federal disaster relief procedures.
•    Keys – Location and access to, combinations for special collections, elevators, (may just be a requirement to have the person(s) responsible for the keys/collections etc listed for security reasons).

Contents of a Disaster Bin:
Please bear in mind that every organisation will have different needs and quantities of the contents will vary, but in all the reading/ research I have done, these tend to be the items most commonly cited.   
Blotting paper
Butchers paper
Chux (or similar) cloths
Clothes line
Cotton gloves
Disposable camera
Dust coat(s)
Dust masks
Extension cord
Fire blanket
First Aid Kit
Freezer bags (ziplock)
Hand towel
Masking tape
Note pad/folder
Plastic aprons
Paper towel
Plastic cloths pegs
Plastic canister (to hold the material)
Plastic bin liners
Plastic sheeting 2x10m
Post it notes
Power board
Rubber gloves
Squeeze Mop
Synthetic chamois
Torch and batteries
Utility knife
Waterproof marking pens


With many thoughts