Safe manual handling at work
Protecting employees from the risks of carrying, lifting, pushing and pulling loads by assessing and reducing the risks and ensuring staff are properly trained
Lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling loads can cause a range of injuries to staff. This includes back problems and other musculoskeletal disorders.
Failing to protect against the risks of manual handling could lead to staff having time off sick. This can reduce your business productivity. This could also leave you open to a compensation claim.
There's a wide range of occupations where manual handling can be part of the job:
Even office staff could easily hurt themselves, for example when moving boxes of paper.
You must assess the risks that employees face when handling objects as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment.
Assess the risks of manual handling
Conducting a risk assessment of tasks that involve lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling heavy loads in five easy steps, from identify to taking action
You must assess the risks that staff face when manual handling as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment. This includes lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling.
Five steps to assessing risks
Carry out these steps to assess the risks of manual handling:
- Identify hazards in your workplace. Consult staff about the hazards they face and ask how you can reduce the risk of them occurring.
- Work out who might be at risk of harm, and how. Consider which staff might be particularly vulnerable. For example, do young, disabled or pregnant employees ever need to lift or carry as part of their job? Remember to consider the risks to visitors to your workplace, such as cleaners and contractors.
- Evaluate the risks and decide whether current safety measures are enough. Draw up an action list with priorities at the top.
- Record your findings. If you employ five or more people, you must write down your findings and inform staff of them.
- Review your assessment and revise it if necessary. For example, when new equipment or processes are being introduced or new members of staff join the company.
You must reduce manual-handling risks to the lowest level that is 'reasonably practicable'. This involves weighing a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control that risk.
You should also consider the risks of staff slipping or tripping when lifting or carrying loads. See avoid slips and trips in the workplace.
Reduce the risks of manual handling
Avoiding lifting and carrying altogether, automating processes and providing mechanical equipment can all help reduce manual handling risks of moving loads
To reduce the risks faced by your staff, you first need to consider whether there are any alternatives to manual handling.
You might be able to find a way of avoiding lifting or carrying loads altogether. This might involve reorganising the layout of your workplace to ensure you store items are stored next to where you'll use them.
For example, storing boxes of paper near the printer or photocopier will minimise the handling required in an office. And by storing items at waist height, you could reduce the need for an employee to either bend down or stretch upwards.
You might also be able to change your working practices. For example, a delivery business might load boxes into vans in the correct order so that they need to move fewer boxes to unload other goods during a delivery round.
Providing handling equipment
Many businesses could reduce the risks by providing simple equipment such as sack trucks or trolleys to move loads.
Depending on the circumstances and nature of your business, you might be able to provide powered equipment.
You might, for example, fit a tail lift to the back of delivery vans to make loading and unloading easier. You can often use forklift trucks to move loads in industrial environments.
You must provide mechanical handling equipment if it's reasonably practicable to do so - ie the cost doesn't outweigh any benefits it would bring.
Introducing mechanical handling equipment into the workplace may bring new risks. See safety of workplace machinery, equipment and tools.
You can also reduce the risks caused by manual handling by training staff to lift and carry correctly so that they're less likely to suffer injury. Read train employees to lift and carry correctly.
Train employees to lift and carry correctly
Teaching staff good handling techniques and how to identify potentially harmful activities can help reduce the risk of injury from manual handling tasks
Training your employees to lift and carry correctly forms an important part of reducing manual handling risks.
Avoid manual handling
You should look at ways of avoiding manual handling, providing mechanical aids and improving working conditions before you consider training.
You should also train staff to recognise which handling activities may be potentially harmful and how to use mechanical lifting equipment if appropriate.
You must make them aware of their health and safety responsibilities in this area, both to themselves and others.
For advice on how you can lift loads safely, see tips for good lifting technique.
You can send staff on training courses to develop good handling techniques - but these can be expensive. However, weighed against the costs of an employee being off work long term due to a work place injury it may be worth it.
Tips for good lifting technique
The following tips can help you avoid injury when lifting and carrying:
- Think before lifting/handling. Plan the lift. Can handling aids be used? Where are you going to place the load, and will you need help? Remove obstructions such as discarded wrapping materials. Consider breaking long lifts by resting the load mid-way on a table or bench to change grip.
- Adopt a stable position. Keep your feet apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it is on the ground). Your feet should be moved to maintain your balance during the lift. Avoid wearing tight clothing and unsuitable footwear which might impair your movement.
- Get a good hold. Where possible, hug the load as close as possible to your body. This may be better than gripping it tightly with your hands only.
- Employ good posture. At the start of the lift, bend your back, hips and knees slightly rather than fully flexing your back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips or knees (squatting).
- Don't flex the back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to lift the load.
- Keep the load close to the waist. Keep the load close to your body, with the heaviest side nearest. If you can't approach to the load closely, try to slide it towards your body before attempting to lift it.
- Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while your back is bent. Your shoulders should be level and facing 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, once you have a secure hold on the load.
- Move smoothly. You should not jerk or snatch the load as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase your risk of injury.
- Don't lift or handle more than can be easily managed. There is a difference between what you can lift and what you can safely lift. If in doubt, seek advice or get help.
- Put down, and then adjust. If you need to position the load precisely, put it down first, and then slide it into the desired position.