Manual Handling: The Basics

manual handling safety at work

Manual Handling is an expression that gained popularity in 1992 when the Manual Handling Operations Regulations were introduced and it refers to “any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”.

In other words, this means that any action that requires a person to push, lift or carry an object without any tools or devices is considered manual handling.

The Dangers of Manual Handling

Manual handling accidents happen more often than you think. As a matter of fact, more than 30% of the injuries reported are related to manual handling, and roughly 10% of critical ones are associated with it. This has a massive influence on workspaces, the damage adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

For instance, about 1.1 million people have declared that they’re affected by musculoskeletal disorders that have been caused or aggravated by their daily job. Furthermore, approximately 12.3 million work days are lost every year as a result of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Every person that carries or handles products is subject to a degree of peril, as injuries can occur at any time during any sort of job that involves handling goods. Risks are present even when small objects are moved – especially if the job is repetitive and done in a sub-optimal way. Among the top elements that have an impact in most handling jobs are the poor layout of the work environment and ergonomics.

While dangerous situations can occur in any industry, there are a few high-risk work sectors in which they arise more often, such as construction, healthcare, and agriculture. The reason behind this is that these industries have a lot of tasks that involve manual handling.

Legal responsibilities and requirements regarding manual handling

According to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, employers must take a series of safety measures:

1. to prevent perilous Manual Handling activities as much as possible

2. to evaluate any dangerous unavoidable Manual Handling activity

3. to diminish the risks of injury as much as possible

Evaluating Manual Handling risks

One method of evaluating manual handling tasks is to focus on four distinct sectors: Task, Individual, Load, Environment – TILE.

Naturally, the employees must have a role in the procedure, and any relevant guidelines for specific industries available should be put to good use.

Crucial aspects that have to be considered in each area:

The task

Is the activity comprised of actions such as pushing, lifting, twisting, carrying, bending? Does the activity involve seated work, unreasonable travel or insufficient rest time?

The Individual

Are there any special requirements, such as an exceptional amount of strength or an unusual height for the specific task? Is the person disabled, pregnant, or affected by a health issue? Do the person needs specific knowledge or training?

The load

Are the items heavy, difficult to hold, hot, cold or sharp? Is the object sturdy or it has moving parts?

The environment

Is the working space too small for the activity? Does the workspace feature slippery floors, cold, hot or humid conditions, insufficient lighting, or bad ventilation? Is the work equipment restrictive when it comes to movements?

Containing manual handling risks

While by far the best option is to eliminate risk, there are situations when this is not possible. In these cases, it’s best to take actions that reduce the risks involved as much as possible.

An approach focused on ergonomics is very important and highly recommended. It is essential to take into consideration how the task can be customised to the worker.

Contemplate and determine if a mechanical handling device would lighten up the task. These devices can range from a simple trolley to more complex solutions such as a forklift truck.

If the manual handling activity can’t be automated or mechanised, you must assess the injury risk involved and take adequate measures to reduce it to reasonable levels.

Fundamental rules of manual handling

When doing any manual handling activity, an individual must have knowledge of some basic rules such as:

  • checking items to see if they are stable and light enough to lift
  • transporting large and heavy objects with a handling device
  • checking to see if the work route is clear of any obstacles
  • standing as close as possible to the object with the feet spread at shoulder width
  • bending the knees and keeping the posture in a natural position
  • grabbing the item firmly and close to the body
  • the lift must be done using the legs, as it reduces the pressure on the back
  • the object must be held and carried close to the body, with the elbows firmly kept close to the body
  • avoid twisting if possible

Team manual handling

When it comes to team lifting, coordination is the key aspect. For a successful lift, everyone should have roughly the same height and physique. Furthermore, only one person must give instructions, and every action has to be carried out at the same time by every person.

When lifting in teams the weight of the lifted object can be increased but under no circumstance with more than two-thirds of what one person can lift.

For instance, if it’s determined that the safe weight a worker can lift is 20 kg, a team of two can lift up to 26.6kg.

Mechanical Handling devices

When used properly, mechanical handling devices can diminish the risk of injury. Heavy items can be moved with the help of simple devices such as trolleys and sack trucks, thus reducing the possibilities of injury.

The safest way to handle a load is to push, and not to pull it. When doing so, the worker must keep the object under control, and let the leg muscles and body weight carry out the work.

Naturally, there are situations when the body weight is not enough and complex mechanical handling devices are needed. Forklift trucks, cranes and many others are widely used in various work sectors as alternatives to manual handling.

When someone is using this kind of machine, he or she has to take a few things into consideration. One is the fact that while the use of complex mechanical devices eliminates some handling risks, others arise and have to be assessed. Another important thing is the fact that these machines need periodical inspection.


So there it is. The basics of manual handling in a nutshell. Stay safe!

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