This September HSE launched a much-anticipated new manual handling risk assessment tool – RAPP – Risk Assessment of Pushing and Pulling.

Ever since the MAC (HSE’s Manual Handling Assessment Chart) was launched some years ago, industry and Inspectors have been asking for something similar to cover pushing and pulling activities, now finally it has arrived.

Why this good news

The bullets below highlight why this is important for industry and the UK economy.

  • Pushing and pulling activities are an important part of a lot of work activity, and a significant contributor to injury, lost time, and cost to industry.
  • Nearly half of all manual handling involves pushing and pulling
  • Musculoskeletal injuries account for 40% of time off in the UK, with around 30% of these due to back injury.
  • Pushing and pulling is involved in around 11% of RIDDOR reported manual handling accidents
  • Of these, around 2/3 occur when moving non-wheeled items
  • Pulling accounts for around 12% more injuries than pushing

(L23, RR228)

In general, pushing and pulling is preferable to lifting and carrying. Many push pull activities occur as a result of risk controls being put in place. There are benefits to this, but it can still be a highly strenuous manual handling activity with risks that need to be carefully managed. This is why the RAPP is an important tool, and the way I see it is that it’s basically a key, which opens the door to doing a useful and straightforward risk assessment of push-pull activities which until now, has understandably been seen as complex and challenging.

 What is the RAPP like to use?

The format of the RAPP is the same as the MAC and ART tools, which you may already be familiar with. RAPP is a short booklet (15 pages), which takes you through key risk factors and gives you prompts and guidance to score them. There are also helpful graphics which provide guidance. Scores for each risk factor are linked with either a green (low risk/good), amber (moderate risk/reasonable), red (high risk/poor), or purple (very high risk/unacceptable) colour tag.

There are two types of assessment included in the RAPP – one for pushing / pulling wheeled devices, and one for pushing / pulling loads without wheels. The scores and prompts are basically the same for most of the risk factors in the wheeled and non-wheeled assessments, apart from:

  • Type of equipment vs Load weight (which is Activity vs Load weight in the non wheeled assessment)
  • Travel distance (which goes into high risk at 30m for wheeled, but at 10m for non-wheeled, with amber bands similarly affected).

This is good because you are basically just familiarizing yourself with one assessment, but it covers both types of activity.

Like with the MAC and ART, it only takes a few minutes to complete once you are familiar with it. As with any musculoskeletal risk assessment, it is well worth getting some video clips of the task to refer back to when you are doing your assessment. They also give you a useful record of how things were being done at the time of the assessment.

Click here for link to the RAPP.

How do I measure push pull forces?

You don’t need to! (not right away anyway). The RAPP doesn’t ask for push pull forces, instead it effectively uses a matrix of ‘type of device’ (e.g. trolley or pallet truck) vs. ‘combined weight of load and device’, to determine a device/load risk level. For non-wheeled pushing pulling, there is a similar approach based on the type of movement (rolling, churning or dragging). I expect this will generally be seen as a good thing, but I have put some advice below on measuring push pull forces if things get more complicated.

A few important things to bear in mind

1) Topping out of scores

A low overall score does not necessarily indicate a low-risk task. As with the MAC a total task scores are generated, but they do not relate to action levels or risk bandings, they are there primarily as a way of prioritizing activities that need the most urgent attention.

It’s important to emphasise that the RAPP is a sophisticated risk filter (like the ART and MAC), rather than a risk assessment in its own right. One of the key reasons why it’s important to bear this in mind is the potential ‘topping out’ of scores. For example, it is possible to have a task where you have all greens (low risks) except one red, but that task still present people with a higher injury risk than another task where you have two or three factors just edging into the red. However, that task with just one red will have a lower overall score. When using tools like the RAPP, ART and MAC, remember that a single risk factor – if it’s severe enough – may be enough to cause injury. This is why it is vital that any risk factors that are flagged up as moderate to very high, are investigated in more detail – with the guidance in L23 as a useful initial reference.

2) Multiple criteria in risk factors

For some risk factors in RAPP, there are several criteria in each risk band of a risk factor. For example for Posture, the ‘Reasonable’ risk band includes:

  • Body is inclined in direction of exertion, or
  • Torso is noticeably bent or twisted, or
  • Hands are below hip height

In this situation you should assign the risk factor score associated with the highest risk issue, e.g. if only hand height is in the red / poor zone, score the Posture factor as Poor. If you make a note of the other factors not being in the poor zone, you can bring that out in your more detailed analysis of that risk factor.

 Are there push pull tasks that RAPP doesn’t apply to?

RAPP is not designed to be applied to tasks like operating controls / levers etc. It is also not appropriate for moving loads on a conveyor. As with the ART / MAC ‘is it/isn’t it a manual handling or an upper limb task?’ this may be seen as a bit of a grey area. For example if you have large weights hanging on an overhead conveyor, which are pushed or pulled along manually – the RAPP is still potentially a useful assessment tool, but the main drawback is that the matrices for calculating the activity or equipment/load weight risk scores won’t be applicable. In a situation like this you could apply RAPP to all the other key risk factors, but then look at push-pull forces separately (see notes below on measuring push-pull forces). It would also be worth running your task through the ART just to be sure you are picking up on any awkward upper limb postures.

How to measure push-pull forces if you want / need to

The approach RAPP takes will simplify things by avoiding the need to measure push pull forces, but you could be looking at a situation where – in reviewing the RAPP load scores, you think actually the forces are much higher, or much lower than the score reflects. For example, dragging or hauling something non-wheeled that weighs >80kg might not require a high level of force if the surfaces are designed to offer low friction, or are inclined to assist with the movement. In these situations you might want to get a better idea of what the push pull forces are, to compare them with the filter figures in L23:

  •  Men:               Stop/start 20kgf , in-motion 10kgf
  • Women:          Stop/start 15kgf , in-motion 7kgf

Remember: “Even for a minority of fit, well-trained individuals working under favourable conditions, operations which exceed the guideline figures by more than a factor of about two may represent a serious risk of injury.” (L23)

Force measuring equipment

Measuring push pull forces can be tricky (which is why the RAPP has a risk score system which uses weights rather than forces). An all bells-and-whistles hand-held force dynamometers is great; they allow you to measure pushing (compressive) as well as pulling (tensile) forces, some fancier ones even have attachments for measuring torque. But they are expensive. I tend to use a cheaper alternative, a 50kg rated hand-held luggage scale. You can buy one for about £10 so they are effectively disposable if things get tough or messy. They tend not to have a maximum weight recording facility so you need to press the re-set button when you are at maximum pull, then when it returns to zero it actually returns to the inverse of the maximum pull and you can just read it off the screen.

Luggage scales also only work in tension – so you can only measure a pull force. But if something is pushed, the likelihood is that it can be pulled, and although that isn’t the way you would normally move it, the level of force should be roughly the same.

RAPP Summary

  •  RAPP takes a lot of the mystery out of the early stages of a push-pull risk assessment and uses
  • RAPP has a familiar and straightforward format.
  • RAPP flags up key push-pull risk factors and it is a useful risk filter.
  • Be aware that high risk/poor scores can ‘top out’ and always look at them in more detail.
  • Just because an overall score is low, it doesn’t mean the task is low risk.
  • You don’t need to measure push pull forces to do a RAPP assessment (but),
  • A luggage scale is a cheap and adaptable way of measuring pull forces if you need to go into more detail.
  • If you do find that you need to go beyond the RAPP and into more detail in your push-pull risk assessment, L23 has some useful information, as well as the document linked to below:

 Want to know more?

If you are interested in a more in-depth training session on the RAPP, push-pull risk assessment, and perhaps a MAC refresher, please  get in touch.

That’s all folks – it’s a RAPP (sorry!)