Manual Handling

Manual Handling refers to a range of activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying. The load may be either animate, such as a person or an animal, or inanimate, such as a box or a trolley.

Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which account for over a third of all workplace injuries.

In order to reduce work related injuries, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment and to ensure employees are aware of potential risks.

In return, Employees have a duty to:

Follow systems of work in place for their safety.
Use equipment provided for their safety properly.
Cooperate with their employer on health and safety matters.
Inform their employer if they identify hazardous handling activities.
Take care to make sure their activities do not put others at risk.

Controlling the risks

An employer needs to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether we are doing enough to prevent harm. This process is known as a risk assessment and it is something businesses are required by law to carry out. A risk assessment is about identifying and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks in your workplace.

Making an Assessment

For all tasks that require an element of manual handling an employer and/or employee should consider and take into account the following:

The task required
Individual capability
The nature of the load
Environmental conditions

If you then need to carry out a form of manual handling, ensure the following:

Reduce the amount of twisting, stooping and reaching
Avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height, especially heavy loads.
Adjust storage areas to minimise the need to carry out such movements.
Consider how you can minimise carrying distances.
Assess the weight to be carried and whether the worker can move the load safely or needs any help - maybe the load can be broken down to smaller, lighter components.

Risk Assessment

A manual handling risk assessment is required where you cannot avoid a manual handling task and there is a potential risk of injury. The assessment looks at the Task, Individual, Load and Environment. Each of these factors should be considered in the assessment. The following list is intended to assist you in considering the risk of injury from manual handling operations. It should assist you in assessing the elements of the operation and assist in deciding suitable controls.

The tasks - do they involve:

Holding loads away from the body?
Twisting, stooping or reaching upwards?
Large vertical movement?
Long carrying distances?
Strenuous pushing or pulling?
Repetitive handling?
Insufficient rest or recovery time?
A work rate imposed by a process?

The loads - are they:

Heavy or bulky?
Difficult to grasp?
Unstable or likely to move unpredictably?
Harmful, e.g. sharp or hot?
Awkwardly stacked?
Too large for the handler to see over?

Ways of reducing the risk of injury Can you:

Use a lifting aid?
Improve workplace layout to improve efficiency?
Reduce the amount of twisting and stooping?
Avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height, especially heavy loads?
Reduce carrying distances?
Avoid repetitive handling?
Vary the work, allowing one set of muscles to rest while another is used?
Push rather than pull?

Can you make the load:

Lighter or less bulky?
Easier to grasp?
More stable?
Evenly stacked?
If the load comes in from elsewhere, have you asked the supplier to help.

Problems to look for when making an assessment

The working environment, are there:

Restrictions on posture?
Bumpy, obstructed or slippery floors?
Variations in floor levels?
Hot/cold/humid conditions?
Gusts of wind or other strong air movements?
Poor lighting conditions?
Restrictions on movements from clothes or personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Individual capacity, does the job:

Require unusual capability, e.g. above average strength or agility?
Endanger those with a health problem or learning/ physical disability?
Endanger pregnant women?
Call for special information or training?

Handling aids and equipment:

Is the device the correct type for the job?
Is it well maintained?
Are the wheels on the device suited to the floor surface?
Do the wheels run freely?
Is the handle height between the waist and shoulders?
Are the handle grips in good condition and comfortable?
Are there any brakes? If so, do they work?

Work organisation factors:

Is the work repetitive or boring?
Is work machine or system-paced?
Do workers feel the demands of the work are excessive?
Have workers little control of the work and working methods?
Is there poor communication between managers and employees?

Ways of reducing the risk of injury

Can you:

Remove obstructions to free movement?
Provide better flooring?
Avoid steps and steep ramps?
Prevent extremes of hot and cold?
Improve lighting?
Provide protective clothing or PPE that is less restrictive?
Ensure your employees' clothing and footwear is suitable for their work?

Can you:

Pay particular attention to those who have a physical weakness?
Take extra care of pregnant workers?
Give your employees more information, e.g. about the range of tasks they are likely to face?
Provide more training
Get advice from an occupational health advisor if you need to?

Can you:

Adjust the work rate?
Provide equipment that is more suitable for the task?
Carry out planned preventive maintenance to prevent problems?
Change the wheels, tyres and/or flooring so that equipment moves easily?
Provide better handles and handle grips?
Make the brakes easier to use, reliable and effective?

Can you:

Change tasks to reduce the monotony?
Make more use of workers' skills?
Make workloads and deadlines more achievable?
Encourage good communication and teamwork?
Involve workers in decisions?
Provide better training and information?

Good handling technique for lifting

Adopt a stable position - The feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it is on the ground). The worker should be prepared to move their feet during the lift to maintain their stability. Avoid tight clothing or unsuitable footwear, which may make this difficult.

Get a good hold - Where possible, the load should be hugged as close as possible to the body. This may be better than gripping it tightly with hands only.

Start in a good posture - At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (squatting).

Don't flex the back any further while lifting - This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.

Keep the load close to the waist - Keep the load close to the body for as long as possible while lifting. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If a close approach to the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before attempting to lift it.

Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways - Especially while the back is bent. Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips. Turning by moving the feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.

Keep the head up when handling - Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.

Move smoothly - The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.

Don't lift or handle more than can be easily managed - There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If in doubt, seek advice or get help.

Put down, then adjust - If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.

The Independent General Practice