As we explored last month in our article on the subject of manual handling risk in the food and drink industry, there are a number of acute and chronic injuries associated with the various processes involved in this sector.

Whilst employers place a great deal of focus on reducing risk around the movement and lifting of large and bulky items, it is important not to overlook the somewhat hidden risks associated with repetitive tasks, of which there are many on the food production line.

Whether moving food in and out of ovens; decorating cakes; lidding and de-lidding tins; stirring cooking pots; handling meat, poultry or fish or packing sliced meat, there are various injuries to back, neck, shoulders, wrists, hands and arms that have the potential to be sustained due to repetition and poor posture.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance and a selection of useful case studies demonstrating solutions to a variety of real food production line issues. Their ART tool is also incredibly valuable when it comes to assessing and reducing the risks connected with upper limb disorders.

How the ART tool can help identify and reduce food production line injuries

The ART tool (Assessment of Repetitive Tasks tool) fulfils a very important role. Almost half of the workers affected each year by musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) suffer joint and repetitive strain injuries including soft tissue, muscle, and ligament and tendon damage. These can result in tenderness, stiffness, tingling, numbness, weakness, swelling and pain, all of which can lead to reduced productivity, low workplace morale and sickness absence.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, non-specific arm pain, tenosynovitis (tendon inflammation) and lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) are some of the most common types of work related upper limb disorder resulting from repetition and poor posture.

The ART tool looks at repetitive strain issues where repetition and non-neutral positions are risk factors. It allows problems to be identified that would usually go unnoticed during a standard manual handling risk assessment. The tool works using a numerical score and a traffic light approach to indicate the level of risk for 12 factors, which are grouped into four stages:

  1. Frequency and repetition of movements
  2. Force
  3. Awkward postures of the neck, back, arm, wrist and hand
  4. Additional factors including rest breaks and duration of the task

The factors are all presented on a flow chart which leads the user step by step to evaluate and grade the degree of risk. The tool is supported by an assessment guide which helps to score the repetitive task being observed. There is also a worksheet to record the assessment.

The HSE recommends that training is undertaken to help use the tool reliably and appropriately. For more information take a look at this walkthrough showing how the ART tool is used to score a repetitive task, and for more detailed information read the HSE’s guidance on learning to use the ART tool.

The ART tool and all the HSE tools form part of the Alistair Bromhead Ltd Manual Handling Risk Assessment course. The course is usually run in-house allowing us to focus on real life situations to show how the tool can put to best use to reduce the actual risks faced.

For more information or to book a course, call 0800 710 1099 or by emailing