Last reviewed 24 February 2021

What is manual handling? What are the risks? What can you do to control them? A reminder of employers’ responsibilities.

The key piece of legislation covering manual handling is the Manual Handling Operation Regulations 1992. They aim to protect workers from harmful lifting operations and so reduce absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. See Employers’ Duties.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling involves the use of the human body to move objects or materials by carrying, lifting, lowering, pushing or pulling.

What are the risks of manual handling?

The risk is of physical injury. Manual handling currently causes one-third of all workplace injuries, usually in the form of musculoskeletal disorders. This is particularly serious if the back is damaged as this can lead to a great deal of pain and discomfort and considerable periods of sickness absence. In some cases it can be career limiting.

Pregnant workers, young workers, new workers and those with a significant health problem or recent injury are more at risk.

How do we approach manual handling at work?

The main method is to follow the hierarchy of control for safety, using the mnemonic “ERIC”.

  • Eliminate — Can you eliminate the manual handling operation completely? One solution might be to work on the item where it is. Maybe you could automate the process? For example, deliver material in bulk by tanker or tipper instead of moving bags or use handling equipment.

  • Reduction — Reduce the risk by, for example:

    • making the item lighter

    • moving the object nearer to point of use with a fork-lift truck or barrow

    • using rise and set tables that rise as the load reduces, thus ensuring lift is always waist high.

  • Isolate — Use barriers and guarding that will prevent access to moving parts or vehicles during manual handling activities.

  • Control — Do a risk assessment and ensure a safe system of work. Other control measures include Method Statements and training.

Once you have reduced manual handling as far as possible and put in place the control above you can consider whether personal protective equipment (PPE) is appropriate to avoid sharp edges, exposure to chemicals, etc.

What is the maximum weight a worker can lift?

Nearly everyone has seen the HSE Manual Handling Chart, but this is a guide only. The maximum lift will depend on the capability of the employee and the nature of the task. The shape and size of the load, its stability and handling points and the working environment (floor surface, space constraints, lighting, temperature, etc) can also affect maximum lift. Even body builders can have difficulty lifting 10Kg out of a parts bin at an awkward angle.

Do we need to carry out a manual handling risk assessment?

Always carry out a preliminary risk assessment to identify the activities that pose a significant risk and therefore warrant a full assessment. For regular lifting tasks and those determined to pose a risk, you should carry out a manual handling risk assessment. You should base this on LITE (or TILE), as follows.

  • Load — How heavy? Are there sharp edges? Where is centre of gravity? Does it have handles or hand holds?

  • Individual — What is their ability, experience, training?

  • Task — Does it involve pulling, pushing, stooping, twisting? Does it involve lifting from low to high? How repetitive is it? Do they have to travel long distances?

  • Environment — What is the condition of the floor? Are there trip hazards? Do they have to climb stairs or ladders? Do you need to take account of the weather?

You could also train employees to carry out their own dynamic risk assessments in changing environments.

Is training required for manual handling?

Training must be carried out that is specific to the tasks or activities employees perform. Employees should receive suitable and sufficient training to reduce the risk from manual handling down to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. They must be made aware of their duties and responsibilities as well as of the hazards associated with manual handling operations and the control measures that should be used to avoid or reduce these risks.

Is it safe for two people carry out a lift, eg carry furniture upstairs?

Yes. Under ideal conditions, two people can lift about 1.3 times as much as one person.

However, employees will need to plan how they are going to carry this out, agreeing a route and method. Good communication is key. This means clear instructions and ensuring a designated lead is fully in control of lift process.

An additional measure could be a separate observer to direct lift as it progresses. Issues include the following.

  • Is the load too heavy for numbers used?

  • Is the load too big for route?

  • Can the load be slid up on side and ropes or other aids used?

  • Are there any pinch points along route?

  • Are employees of equal capability and have they understood instructions given?

Beware that when climbing stairs, or carrying uneven loads, the bulk of the weight may fall on one person.

Further information

Your Manual Handling topic is packed with useful advice and includes a Training Presentation that can be adapted for your organisation, risk assessment forms, a model policy, factsheets and a director briefing.