Manual Handling

One of the most common causes of injury at work is due to incorrect manual handling. When an item is not lifted correctly it can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) which account for over a third of all workplace injuries.

Statistics supplied by the Health and Safety Executive report the total number of MSD cases in 2013/14 was 526 000. The total number of working days lost due to MSDs in 2013/14 was 8.3 million, an average of 15.9 days per case of MSDs.

Manual handling injuries can happen in most professions – on building sites, in factories, in offices, warehouses, hospitals, banks and in shops. These are just a few examples. Where your job involves any kind of manual handling, incorrect lifting could result in MSD.

A few more stats:

  • In 2013/2014 alone 184,000 new cases were reported.
  • 8.3 million working days are lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Manual handling is the main work activity which causes back disorders.
  • Approximately 40% of disorders affect the back, and 40% affect the upper limbs.
  • High rates of MSDs are found on construction sites, in hospitals and personal care facilities, in the postal and courier services as well as on farms.

What can be done to help prevent manual handling injuries?

Employers have a legal obligation under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 to assess the risk to employees if manual handling of loads is part and parcel of a person’s job. A series of regulations set out a hierarchy of measures that should be followed to reduce the risks from manual handling. These are:

  • avoid manual handling operations where possible
  • assess the risk in any manual handling tasks that cannot be avoided and
  • reduce the risk of injury so far as reasonably possible

The law doesn’t identify a maximum weight limit so it falls to employers to assess the risk when manual handling tasks need to be carried out and to ensure measures are in place to manage the risk. Clearly what is required will depend upon the task involved.

Risk assessment and training

Training is important in reducing the risk of injuries due to manual handling and making sure staff are aware if best practices however, if manual lifting is the only option there is then the following steps should be taken to minimise the risk:

  1. Assess the weight of the load to be lifted. If possible split loads into smaller weights which are easier to lift. If this is not possible ensure the proper lifting equipment is available such as a forklift truck, electric or hand-powered hoist, or a conveyor.
  2. Reduce the amount of twisting, stooping, and reaching and avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height.
  3. Minimise carrying distances.
  4. Ensure staff receive training on how to lift correctly and as safely as possible.

For more information and advice on MSDs see the HSE website ( (pdf), and (pdf)).

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