Health and Safety

by Pete Fisher

Manual handling

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 aim to eliminate, or at least reduce, the risk of personal injury to employees while undertaking their work activities. The emphasis is on assessment/identification of any risk associated with any given work-related activity, following which appropriate measures should be put in place to counter that risk. Unfortunately, despite modern science and technology, not all handling operations can be mechanised and the need for manual handling still remains.

In summary, employers are required to

  • Assess the risks associated with each task involving manual handling operations and record the significant findings of the assessment
  • Consider ways of eliminating or significantly reducing any identified risk
  • Introduce revised, safer working practices or provide employees with appropriate equipment, specifically designed to reduce any identified risk
  • Ensure that employees are provided with sufficient, appropriate, information and training on working practices, including how to lift objects safely and the use of any equipment provided
  • Regularly check any equipment to ensure it is maintained in a safe condition.

Risk management

A risk assessment must be carried out where there is the requirement to carry, move or lift anything. Where the risk assessment has indicated that moving the object is likely to cause injury, then the assessment must be documented.

A risk assessment should consider the following elements before employees attempt to move anything:

The Task The Load
  • Proximity of the load to the body
  • Posture of the body
  • Twisting and stooping movement required
  • Lifting/lowering
  • Distances
  • Pushing/pulling forces required
  • Sudden shift of load from centre of gravity
  • Frequent/prolonged physical effort
  • Insufficient rest/recovery periods
  • Handling while seated
  • Handling by a team
  • Job rotation
  • Weight
  • Unwieldiness
  • Difficult to grasp
  • Stability of load – are carried contents liable to shift?
  • Is it sharp, hot or liable to cause injury?
The Working Environment The Individual
  • Space constraints
  • Uneven, slippery or unstable floor
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Training
  • Light conditions
  • Physical suitability for task
  • Health problems
  • Risk to pregnant employees

Risk controls

In order to minimise the risk and therefore the chance of injury to the person performing the manual handling operation, the following measures should be considered:

  • Avoid manual handling – this could be through redesigning the task to avoid moving the load or by making use of mechanical or automatic equipment.
  • Environment – if the manual task cannot be eliminated, consider reducing the load, improving the environment or implementing better procedures, such as involving a second person in the lift.
  • Any mechanical equipment provided must be suitable for the task and properly maintained. The equipment may introduce other hazards into the work, such as moving parts, and should be risk assessed prior to use.

Training and information

Where manual handling cannot be eliminated, then full and comprehensive training must be provided by the employer. Likewise, it is also the employee’s responsibility to attend training sessions and not to take risks.

The training should include:

  • Dangers of careless and unskilled handling methods
  • Functions of the spine and muscular system
  • Effects of lifting and handling, with emphasis on harmful posture
  • Use of mechanical aids
  • Correct techniques of lifting.


One of the most common causes of back injury is the use of poor lifting techniques; by thinking ahead and taking some simple precautions, as shown below, this risk can be reduced – and all it costs is the time it takes to learn how to lift correctly!

  1. Always use the proper techniques when lifting loads.
  2. Get down close to the load.
  3. Keep your back straight.
  4. Lift gradually, using your legs, do not jolt or twist; get help for bulky or heavy loads.
  5. If, while carrying or pushing a load, it should become unbalanced and start to fall, let it fall clear rather than risk serious strain in attempting to balance it alone.