Manual Handling

Man using a drill

Manual handling includes many operations concerned with the moving of loads, either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling.

Injuries can also be caused as a result of other factors such as, the amount of times you pick up or carry a load, the distance you are carrying it, the height from which you are picking it up or putting it down and any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward posture you may adopt whilst doing a task.

Manual handling is a common cause of injury at work and can occur almost anywhere in the workplace. Heavy manual labour, awkward postures and previous or existing injury can increase the risk. Injuries can have serious implications for both the employer and the person who has been injured. This could include for the employer, lost production, sickness absence costs,
potential compensation payments and for the injured person, their ability to do their job may be affected or there could be an impact on their lifestyle, leisure activities, future job prospects etc.

It is essential therefore that employers manage the risks to their employees from manual handling tasks. Where possible manual handling tasks should be avoided or where this is not possible, the risks mitigated by using some form of assistance equipment e.g. trollies, fork lift truck etc.

Where manual handling tasks are essential and cannot be done using assistance equipment, then a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be conducted.

When undertaking an assessment for lifting and carrying there are various things to consider :

The Task – Does it involve holding loads away from the body, twisting, stooping, reaching or carrying for long distances?

The Load – Is it heavy, bulky, difficult to grasp,unstable or unpredictable, sharp, hot or too large to see over?

The Environment– Does lack of space restrict posture or is the flooring slippery or uneven, maybe variations in floor levels?
There may be cold or hot humid conditions,lighting might be poor or if outdoors, strong winds may present a problem. Sometimes the operator’s clothing or Personal Protective
Equipment (PPE) may be causing movement restrictions.

Individual Capacity – Will the task require above average strength or agility or has the operative learning or physical disabilities? Has the individual any health problems or are
they pregnant?

Handling Aids – Is the device suitable for the task, well maintained, have working brakes if needed and handles to assist grip and manoeuvring that are positioned between waist and shoulder height ?

Work Organisation – Is the work repetitive,‘machine paced’ or are the work demands excessive?

Control measures to consider that can reduce the risk of injury :

The Task – Can a lifting aid be used or is it possible to improve the workplace layout? Is it possible to reduce excessive body movement, repetitive handling and push loads rather than pull them?

The Load – Can it be made lighter, easier to grasp, more stable or be supplied in smaller packages?

The Environment – Is it possible to remove obstructions to aid free movement, including general clothing and PPE or improvements to floor conditions and levels ? Is it possible to improve lighting levels and extremes of temperature ?

Individual Capacity – Extra care should be taken with pregnant workers and those with physical weakness. Provide person, job and task specific training and where necessary get advice from an occupational health advisor.

Handling Aids – Provide equipment that is suitable for the task and ensure it is regularly maintained. Ensure the equipment moves easily, has brakes if required and adjust work rates to suit the equipment and individual.

Work Organisation – Make workloads and deadlines achievable. Provide better training and stop the task being monotonous. Also try to make more use of workers skills and involve them in decision making.

How far to go in reducing the risk :

The risk should be reduced to a level that is ‘reasonably practicable’. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control that risk in terms of money, time and trouble. This could mean providing mechanical aids to reduce or eliminate risks but remember that the cost of
doing this is very often offset by an increase in productivity.

Training is important but should not be seen as a substitute for mechanical aids. However, it should take the form of regular sessions that include understanding the risks, how injury occurs, how to carry out safe manual handling and good lifting techniques, appropriate and individual/job specific requirements and selection of the correct mechanical aids.

Good handling technique for lifting include :

Think before lifting – Plan the lift/handling, use mechanical aids where appropriate, decide if a rest point is needed on route and where the final resting place of the load will be. Consider if team lifting is appropriate.
Adopt a stable position – Make sure your feet are apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance.

Get a good hold – At the start of the lift slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back and stooping or indeed adopting a full squatting
position. Avoid twisting with the back or leaning sideways. Turn by moving your feet. Keep the load close to the body and preferably at waist height.

Head up – Keep your head up when carrying the load. Look ahead, not down at the load and move smoothly. Never jerk or snatch the load as this can increase the risk of injury.
Don’t lift or handle a load bigger than you can easily manage.

Final destination and ‘put down’ – Once the load arrives at the final destination put it down, then make any adjustments required. Precise positioning should always be carried
out after the load has been put down and then slid into the desired position.

Remember that there is no such thing as a completely safe manual handling operation

– A risk assessment will not provide ‘safe limits’ for lifting but working outside the control measures and recommendations is likely to increase the risk of injury. Always
examine each task closely for possible improvements and remember to make the work less demanding, if practicable to do so.

The main control measure is to avoid lifting operations that have a risk of injury. Where it is not practicable to do this, each lifting operation must be assessed and the risks of that particular operation reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable.

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