Safe Lifting Training with Plumpton at Lewes Community Allotment

By Emma Chaplin

On a beautiful sunny April day, James from Square Lemon Training came along at lunchtime to give staff and volunteers some useful information about safe manual handling (ie lifting things), so that Sarah could then use that knowledge for planning tasks at the allotment, as well as for making sure people that come to the allotment take care of their backs.

The word 'manual' comes from using your hands (moving people is a different proposition, and these days, care workers are taught to safely use hoists etc).

James told us that back problems can be both acute (sudden onset) and chronic (built up/last a period of time).

Our backs are naturally 's' shaped, there is a curve, so you shouldn't literally straighten your back - the curve is there to provide suspension.

Having slightly bent knees is a more stable standing position than having locked knees.

We are also more stable if our feet are not close together, and we all have a dominant foot that we tend to put slightly ahead of the other one.

Twisting often poses a high risk for backs, and should be avoided. 

James emphasised the importance of careful planning for all tasks. In some instances, this might lead to the tasks not being done, because you might assess that it is not safe to do them (because the objects are too heavy, or the ground is not stable enough, for example) or, on balance, that it is not essential that they happen.

Good inductions are really important in any "work place", including an allotment where volunteers, clients and members come along to carry out tasks.

He suggested that, as quickly as possible after a new group or person starts with us, we offer basic manual handling advice, along with a tour of the site.

In planning terms, for any activity involving lifting, you take into account TILE - or

  • TASK what you're doing
  • INDIVIDUAL the strength, fitness and abilities of the person
  • LOAD how heavy/awkward the thing you are thinking of moving is
  • ENVIRONMENT the space around- do you have access? Is it firm underfoot and clear of obstacles?

General points

Think about any task in advance and do a risk assessment - ask why are we bothering moving it? Is it really necessary? 

It's a good idea to ask a group in advance of doing any tasks if anyone has back problems.

Think about how to manage each job safely. Split the task up - have a rota so no one person is doing all the lifting. It's much easier to move an empty object such as a plant pot than a full one. Or dry soil rather than wet. 

Use a wheelbarrow when you can. Position it as close as possible to the load.

Take a step rather than twist (eg as you put soil in). So position yourself so you are straight on. 

  • don't lift something that is too heavy or awkward to lift safely
  • reduce the size of the load if you can
  • clear the route of hazards, check if ground uneven, muddy, icy or slippery, remove barriers, tell people what you're doing
  • it is always best to get close to the object (principles of leverage)
  • stand in a stable, legs-apart posture
  • avoid twisting, be straight onto the load
  • you should bend your knees to get low down before lifting, so using thigh muscles rather than your back
  • keep your head straight
  • you should grasp the object low down and securely
  • do the lift in pairs where necessary - with two people of roughly the same height - with clear communication, and one person in charge (who agree in advance what the "move" command is - eg "1,2,3, LIFT")
  • keep the load close to the body 
  • follow the same principles in reverse when you come to lower the load down

James then left, and a little later, the Plumpton College Rural Pathways group arrived. After welcoming them and asking one student to take the register, Sarah talked through the principles of safe manual handling and back care, whilst I demonstrated using a pile of empty pots.

Then one group planted seed potatoes, whilst the other planted seeds, then the groups swapped tasks.

Later in the session, a load of top soil bags were delivered near the allotment gate, and the group brought the bags into the allotment in pairs, using wheelbarrows and the principles of safe lifting that they had learnt.