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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'.

This information is current, but it is important to consider issues in your workplace that are specific to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and make suitable arrangements to keep your staff safe. For more information and advice on working safely, read our COVID-19 guidance

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

1. Manual handling risk assessment

Anyone involved in the moving and handling of goods (including moving people) could be at risk of injury. There are risks in handling even light loads if the task is repetitive or is being carried out in poor conditions.

Risks can be found in all work sectors, but healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing and construction are recognized as high-risk industries due to the number and nature of the manual handling activities.

Injuries related to manual handling activities are sometimes called musculoskeletal disorders. These include injuries to joints and other tissues in the upper and lower limbs or back.

They account for more than a third of all new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health. To find out more about them visit our 'Muscles, bones and joints' section.

Order of controls for manual handling risks

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 requires that employers should follow this order of control measures to deal with manual handling risks.

  1. In the first instance try to avoid the need for hazardous manual handling. Decide whether you need to move the item at all or consider alternative ways of working, such as automation (using pallet trucks, trolleys, conveyor belts and so on).

  2. If you can't do this then you need to assess the risks of injury from hazardous manual handling that cannot be avoided. This can be done in-house by finding ways of making the work easier, less risky and less physically demanding.

  3. Reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable. This means to reduce risks until the cost of further precautions in time, money or trouble would be too great in proportion to the benefits.

Assessing manual handling risks

A manual handling assessment is required when you cannot avoid a manual handling task and there is a risk of injury. It will help you in assessing the elements of the operation and assist in deciding suitable controls.

The assessment looks at the task, individual, load and environment, easily remembered by the acronym TILE. We have an assessment tool to help you do this. Some of the key factors to consider for each element are as follows.

  1. Task – consider if the activity involves any twisting, stooping, bending, travel, pushing, pulling, sudden movement of the load, team handling or seated work.

  2. Individual - individuals have varied physical capacity, and this should be considered in your assessment. It is important to look at each individual's physical capability before carrying out a task. Anyone with a known injury or disability should be individually assessed. Special assessments will be required for young workers and those with impaired vision, reduced grip strength, pregnancy or disability.

  3. Load - consider if the load is heavy, difficult to grasp, sharp, hot or cold or if the contents are likely to move or shift.

  4. Environment - you need to think about the working environment as this may increase the risk related to the task. Consider floor conditions, variations on floor levels, space constraints, poor lighting or ventilation. Also hot or cold environments and wind conditions can all have an impact.

It's very important that you consult and involve your employees while risk assessing manual handling tasks, when considering control measures and choosing between ways to reduce risks. It's also key that you use relevant guidance available.

Use our manual handling risk assessment form