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Manual handling

Precautions you can take and legal obligations you must follow when requiring employees to engage in manual handling tasks

Any activity that requires an individual to lift, move or support a load is classified as a manual handling task. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 define it as 'any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or by bodily force'.

  1. Manual handling risk assessment
  2. Controlling manual handling risks
  3. Good lifting technique
  4. Manual handling legal obligations

​2. Controlling manual handling risks

Once you have identified the hazards, you must determine how best to control them, for example

  • use a mechanical aid to help you lift and move the load. Make sure that they have been maintained and kept in good working condition
  • make changes to the working area to reduce the distance travelled with the load and the need for twisting or bending
  • reduce the need of lifting from floor level or above shoulder height. Remember that is better to push rather than pull the load
  • assess the workplace to ensure that there are no obstructions (including doors), the flooring is adequate and that there is enough lighting to carry out the task safely
  • provide frequent breaks to ensure that muscles can rest
  • ask suppliers to reduce the size or weight of loads or to add handles to make it easier to grasp
  • make sure the load is stable
  • use the HSE booklet Manual Handling at Work: a brief guide – it offers guidelines on the weights a reasonably fit individual should be capable of carrying. It should be used as guidance and not maximum weight limits; remember the assessment should consider more than just the weight of an object
  • you can use the HSE ART Tool for repetitive tasks
  • think about the individual, especially those who might be vulnerable to injuries, such as pregnant workers, young people or those with a pre-existing health condition
  • when team work is required make sure that is well organised and you take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of injury.


It’s a legal requirement that your employees are trained and competent in everything they do, including manual handling. However it’s equally important that you consider the use of mechanical aids and assess the task, before introducing manual handling training as a control measure.

Handling aids

Mechanical handling aids can reduce the risk of injury when used correctly. Even simple aids such as trolleys, sack trucks and wheelbarrows can be used to move items and reduce the likelihood of injury.

It is better to push rather than pull, and to use body weight and leg muscles to do the work. You also need to ensure the load is kept under control, particularly on slopes.

In some cases more sophisticated manual handling aids may be required, such as cranes, hoists, pallet trucks, conveyors and fork lift trucks. You need to remember that handling aids might eliminate many of the manual handling risks, although their use will introduce other risks and these must be assessed.

Additionally some regulations require that many of these items receive a periodic statutory inspection on some of their components.

For more information, please read our sections on workplace inspections and equipment maintenance.

Lifting and handling in teams

Team lifting is sometimes used to reduce manual handling risks, however it needs to be coordinated properly.

You should try and make sure that those lifting are around the same height and build. Also you should ensure that one person is responsible for giving instructions and coordinating the activity. This will help make sure everyone lifts, moves off, stops and places the load down at the same time.

Lifting in teams does not mean that the weight of the load can be doubled for each extra person in the team. For example, for a lifting team of two, the load should only be increased by two thirds of the total each person can lift.

This means that if the risk assessment decided that it was okay for one person to lift a load of 20kg, using two people would mean that the load should not exceed around 26.6kg, (13.3kgs pers person) - not that it's okay to lift a load of 40kg.

More detailed information on team manual handling can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.

Visit the HSE to see their Manual Handling Assessment Chart Tool