What is Manual Handling?

Manual Handling relates to the moving of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling. Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as back pain, limb & joint pain and repetitive strain injuries, account for over a third of all workplace injuries.

As an employer, you must protect your workers from the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling in the workplace.

What is the problem?

Manual handling injuries are part of a wider group of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The term ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ includes injuries and conditions that can cause pain to the back, joints and limbs. 

Manual handling risks can be found across all kinds of workplaces – on farms and building sites, in factories, offices, warehouses, hospitals and while making deliveries. Heavy manual labour, repetitive handling, awkward postures and previous or existing injuries or conditions are all risk factors for developing MSDs. Work may also make worse an injury which was not caused at work, such as a sports injury.

The Law says

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require you to assess the risks to the health and safety of your workers. Where this identifies hazardous manual handling of loads, you should also comply with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (the Manual Handling Regulations)

The Manual Handling Regulations set out a clear hierarchy of measures you must follow to prevent and manage the risks from hazardous manual handling:

  • avoid hazardous manual handling operations, ‘so far as reasonably practicable’;
  • assess the risk of injury to workers from any hazardous manual handling that can’t be avoided; 
  • reduce the risk of injury to workers from hazardous manual handling to as low as reasonably practicable. 

Workers have duties too. They should: 

  • follow systems of work in place for their health and safety; 
  • use properly any equipment provided for their health and safety; 
  • cooperate with you on health and safety matters; 
  • inform you if things change or they identify hazardous handling activities; 
  • take care to make sure their activities do not put others at risk. 

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Reduce the risk of Manual Handling injuries

While manual handling incidents are common, the majority of injuries are preventable. Businesses must prioritise health and safety risk assessments and implement manual handling training to ensure workers use safe manual handling techniques.

Where you identify risks from hazardous manual handling in your workplace that cannot be avoided, you must do a manual handling risk assessment to help you decide what you need to do to manage these risks. Make sure your workforce is fully involved in the risk assessment process.

You also need to take account of psychosocial risk factors. These may affect workers’ psychological responses to their work and workplace conditions.

Examples are high workloads, tight deadlines and lack of control over the work and working methods, which may make people more likely to develop MSDs.

Consider risks arising from:

  • The task;
  • The load;
  • The working environment;
  • Individual capacity;
  • Any materials handling equipment or handling aids used;
  • How you organise and allocate work;
  • The pace, frequency and duration of the work.

Make sure you take account of the individual requirements of workers who may be especially at risk, for example:

  • New or expectant mothers;
  • People with disabilities, which may make it more difficult to do a particular task;
  • Those returning to work after a recent manual handling injury, who may be on a phased return to work;
  • Inexperienced new, young or temporary workers;
  • Older workers;
  • Contractors, homeworkers or lone workers;
  • Migrant workers who may not have English as their first language.

4 Steps to Manual Handling TILE Assessment

Manual handling assess the task
manual handling assess the individual
manual handling assess the load
manual handling assess the environment

What about Manual Handling training

Providing information and training alone will not ensure safe manual handling. The first objective should always be to design the handling operations to be as safe as reasonably practicable. Manual handling training is important to further manage the risk of injury if the task cannot be avoided and you have already taken action to reduce the risk.

The information covered by manual handling training should be specific to the job and should include:

  • Manual handling risk factors and how injuries can happen;
  • Appropriate systems of work for the individual’s tasks and environment; use of mechanical aids;
  • How to carry out safe manual handling, including good handling techniques; practical work relevant to the job to allow the trainer to identify and put right anything the trainee is not doing safely;
  • How to report symptoms and injuries.