Managing Hazardous Manual Tasks Onsite

WorkCover Queensland is investing in the construction industry’s injury risk reduction, with its recent collaboration with Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland (MPAQ). As part of its Injury Risk Reduction Initiatives program, WorkCover funded a project to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries sustained by plumbers. The initiative focused on robust risk controls, including consultative work design and development of engineering solutions.

WorkCover and MPAQ worked with industry employers CC Group and Beavis and Bartels Group, as well as occupational health physiotherapists to identify specific concerns regarding hazardous manual tasks and musculoskeletal injuries. The initiative aimed to promote appropriate control measures and materials to educate workers on how to apply a risk assessment approach to hazardous manual tasks onsite.

Following a series of worksite visits and engagement with workers at all levels from frontline plumbers to management, a series of ‘Own safety onsite’ toolbox talks and materials were then developed to help plumbers take ownership of their health and wellbeing by using a hierarchical approach to hazard control onsite. This included using and promoting higher order controls, such as lifting aides and engineering controls, to reduce the manual task risk to workers. Lower order controls, such as technique-based lifting advice, team lifting protocols and pre-start warm-ups, were also included where higher order controls are not practicable.

Training was delivered to project managers on manual task risk management and leading toolbox talks and exercise sessions relating to physical demands of jobs.

In a post-training survey of the project managers:

  • 100% said they were satisfied with the training received and believed the resources were well suited
  • 100% felt confident to deliver the developed content in toolbox talks
  • 93% believed the project will reduce injury risk among plumbers
  • 100% would recommend this project to other employers in their industry.


View the toolbox talk resources below.


  • Toolbox Talk – The Basics

    Key learnings:

    • Workers understand how to apply a dynamic assessment approach to hazardous manual tasks
    • Workers understand manual task risk identification, risk factors, and use hierarchy of controls to prioritise risk reduction.
    THINK about and plan your work tasks
    • Ensure that lifting aids, equipment and appropriate resources are considered into the project budget.   \
    • Plan forward or look ahead. Ensure project managers and supervisors schedule work ahead of time to ensure lifting aides, equipment, tooling, and resources are appropriate to avoid unnecessary manual handling. Program or forecast ahead regularly to minimise working around other trades and allow for ease of access to work areas for lifting aids, equipment, trolleys, etc.  
    • Use toolbox talks to clarify and confirm jobs. Ensure constant and clear communication between workers and other contractors to reduce unnecessary manual handling. 
      Ensure whenever practicable lifting is eliminated, or a mechanical aid is used.  
    • Understand hazardous manual task risk factors – sustained postures, repetitive postures, awkward or sustained postures, high or sudden force, vibration.  
    • Ensure a risk assessment, WI, JSA or SOP has been completed, understood, and signed off prior to commencement of any works requiring hazardous manual tasks.
    ACT using safe lifting principles
    • Workers to understand their capabilities and limitations regarding manual handling tasks (stature, strength, pre-existing weaknesses, or injuries).  

    • Visual assessment – weight, size, shape, handles. 

    • Assessment with foot or hand – tap or pull to get a feel for weight when unsure of weight or unsure.   

    • Checking path for hazards or obstructions.

    If manual handling can’t be avoided:

    1. Apply safe manual handling principles including:

    • good base of support
    • two handed neutral or power grip 
    • using squat, semi squat and kneeling postures to reduce bending of the back
    • moving feet and avoiding twisting and overreaching
    • smooth controlled movements
    • eyes on path and use ramps whenever possible to avoid jumping or climbing in and out of trenches.  
    • use an elevated work platform instead of ladders and avoiding jumping off the last step or run. Avoid jumping off EWP’s, steps, ladders or machinery.

    2. Ensure regular rotation through positions and tasks to reduce exposures.  
    3. Use a two man or team lift for heavy or awkward items such as long lengths of pipe.  
    4. Always use a trolley or wheelbarrow to reduce carrying.  
    5. When using tooling such as a whacker packer or hammer drill, use a two-handed neutral power grip, keep tooling close to you and avoid ‘fighting’ tooling by letting the machine do the work.  
    6. Use work benches at comfortable working postures (hip to waist height) to avoid overreaching or cutting materials in awkward postures.

    Report any issues early
    • Advise your supervisor, manager or HSE site representative as soon as possible if you identify hazards or incidents, or experience discomfort or pain.  
    • Seek early treatment for injuries.
    • It’s important not only to consider risk management at work but to ensure you and your workers are remaining active and preventing injuries outside of work. Resistance training and specifically targeting weight training aimed at strengthening will help to prevent acute and overuse injuries. 
    • Use dynamic warmups, mobility, and strength exercises to assist with injury prevention.

    (Consult a GP or Allied Health professional prior to commencing any new exercise program).



    The development of this document has been funded by WorkCover Queensland and involved collaboration with stakeholders and worker representatives from CC Group, Beavis and Bartels Group, WorkCover Queensland, and the Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland. 

    For further information on workplace health and safety, please refer to:

    Hazardous Manual Tasks Code of Practice 2011

    Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011


    The information contained within is general in nature and is not related to your specific circumstances, situations, or medical conditions. Neither Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland (MPAQ) nor WorkCover Queensland will be liable for any injury or illness sustained for following this information and it is recommended to seek advice as to individual circumstances before using this information.

  • Toolbox Talk – In Ground Works

  • Rough In and Fit Out

  • Toolbox Talk - Suspended Pipe Work


Download the toolbox talk resources below.

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