Backaches - what can be done to prevent them?

Back injuries, strains and sprains, sore arms, shoulders and wrists – manual handling injuries which are amongst the most common injuries suffered by workers across Victorian workplaces.

Sometimes these injuries lead to a Workers' Compensation claim; but in many cases our members just put up with it.

Some employers discourage members reporting injuries and incidents, and workers can be too scared to speak up. Other times members don't report their aches because they do not realise the potential seriousness of manual handling injuries.

What would you rather have happen to you - wrecking your back or losing one of your fingers? Which is easier to live with?

Manual handling injuries are not only common, but the employer can usually prevent them.

What does the law say?

The employer has a duty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) to provide and maintain for employees, as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing safe plant, a safe system of work, information, training, supervision, and where appropriate personal protective equipment.

In addition, Victoria has had Manual Handling Regulations since 1988. These were revised and re-issued in 1999 and then again updated as part of the consolidated Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 2007 (now 2017).  Yet, many employers continue to do very little or nothing about the hazard of Manual Handling, more or less ignoring their legal duties under the OHS Act and the regulations to do anything about the problem of sprains and strains. Read more on the regulations. 

Make it safe – Action for health and safety reps

Talk with your members:

  • Discuss with them their ideas, issues and concerns.
  • Ensure that members understand the importance of reporting and documenting all incidents, aches and pains which may be work related.
  • Consider doing a 'mapping' exercise


Talk with your employer about implementing the requirements of the Manual Handling section of the Regulations:

  • Exmaning all new and current tasks at the workplace to identify hazardous manual handling (eg those which members complain about and/or could cause injury);
  • Introducing a control program to eliminate the risk of injury, such as designing a different system of work. If elimination is not possible, then action must be taken to reduce the risks as much as possible;
  • Providing mechanical lifting/moving devises where it is not possible to eliminate or reduce the risk in other ways;
  • Providing workers with adequate information and training;
  • Ensuring that all hazard identification and risk control be done in consultation with the workers and all the health and safety representatives.

Simply providing workers with training on how to lift "properly" and doing nothing about the manual handling itself is not satisfactory, as the emphasis has to be on reducing the risk.

Totally unsatisfactory is the provision of back belts, which have been shown to do nothing to reduce the risk of injury. WorkSafe has issued a Guidance Note on this issue (see below).

Contact your union for further advice.

See Also:

Last amended September 2017