Manual Handling in the Apiary
Ref. Your associations risk assessments and Manual Handling Regs and
HSE sheets on use of lifting aids
A growing percentage of us are of advancing years or of decreasing ability to handle items the way we used to. The younger of us are at the same risk though we may not realise it.
When we talk about manual handling this does not just refer to lifting….
Lift only what you feel capable of. Legislation expects adult males not to attempt loads greater than 25kgs and the ladies only 16kg. To illustrate, a bag of cement or a sack of potatoes is normally about 25kg. Before deciding whether to lift a load we need to consider whether it really needs to be moved in its entirety. Could it be broken down into smaller lots? Equipment to help lift would be the next consideration – however limited space and uneven surfaces in the apiary make the use for sophisticated lifting /handling equipment difficult. The nature of the task and load needs to be evaluated: How heavy is it? Does it have sharp corners, splinters from years of use (gloves will help and may give a better grip), how far do we need to travel with it, is there sufficient room round the item to enable good access and position?
Think about the size and shape of the object and its position. A full super may only weigh around 15-20lbs and be reasonably easy to handle but a full brood chamber may be three times this and a double brood much more again. Sometimes what is easy to handle at ground level can be a completely different matter when it is on the top of a stack of supers (after a good summer). When this is the case even stretching to use a hive tool to break the seal can be a source of strain. The visibility when carrying can be an issue regardless of weight. Consider a bag of feathers weighing 15 -20 lbs the same weight as a super. If uncompressed this would be big enough to obstruct your vision and hide tripping hazards.
Team work is the answer to a lot of heavy or awkward apiary tasks but try to avoid walking backwards if carrying in tandem unless you have a third person watching where you walk.
This brings us to another point about the apiary. Do you have nice paved, obstruction free paths (excite your treasurer by suggesting it!) or are they grass grown hiding mole runs, rabbit holes and bramble stems? Even decent paths can change the risks and play a part in handling difficulties. Wet or icy surfaces, soggy, muddy, uneven ground and poor light can all add to the risk. Not ideal beekeeping conditions but visiting an apiary in windy or stormy conditions may be a necessity if hives have been shifted by the weather. In most circumstances you should not visit your apiary alone, but this is even more of a consideration in poor conditions.
Where your apiary is more natural, keep vegetation trimmed back on the access and in the apiary. Keep obstacles off the paths and remember that ambulance or stretcher access may be required.
Trawl catalogues for items that help in handling, not just beekeeping catalogues (for hive carriers) but construction or storage suppliers who may have something to serve your need.
A lot of items can be obtained cheaply: a luggage spring balance can give you the weight of hive if you put the hook centrally under each side and then add the two together.
- A wheelbarrow which has lost its “barrow” can be converted to carry a hive
- A small hive with two good straps round it can be carried by sliding a batten under each side of the roof and carrying it like a sedan chair (two people)
- A small car engine crane could be used (if the ground is stable) Remember that lifting in awkward positions e.g. at arm’s length, at a height or while leaning over something (a definite no -no) can increase the risk of injury. Photographs of Warrê/Rose or even National hives with 5,6 or 7 supers demonstrate a real challenge and do really need mechanical assistance. Be aware of the problems you create by your own ambitions in maximising surplus when adding more and more supers.
While I have not tried them, I have seen the polystyrene hives and these, by being lighter in weight, may help our handling problems but are more affected by wind.
When lifting remember:
- Think about the task (do you need a another to help?)
- Position yourself
- Bend knees and keep back straight
- Straighten up and
- Lift to waist height
- Position first before adjusting
Manual Lifting Visual Guide
1 Think about the lift 2 position yourself 3 bend knees and straight back 4 straighten up 5 lift to waist high
6 position first befor adjusting and if necessary 7 use team effort
When considering a risk assessment for manual handling:
Do you need to manually handle the item?
Better planning may eliminate the need for so much manual handling (Have a brainstorming session!) including:
- using lighter materials or using only supers to build up a hive.
- using a system of management not requiring so much lifting and handling
- placing colonies on stands to keep work at waist level (but this can add to the height overall).
- Trying to always work in pairs when working colonies.
- Making sure that the bee suit or veil does not restrict movement.