In every employment sector, tasks that involve manual handling are a significant cause of injury. In an average year just over 35% of RIDDOR reported injuries are due to handling. The injuries often result in permanent disability and lead to compensation claims. It is therefore important that employers identify areas where manual tasks are undertaken and take steps to reduce both the risk of injury and the potential for disruption of their business.

‘Manual handling’ includes work involving the lifting and carrying of loads. It also covers pushing, pulling and any use of bodily force to move an object because the same sets of muscles and forces are involved. Injuries associated with manual handling are lower back pains and upper limb disorders (ULDs); problems with the shoulder and arm, including the forearm, elbow, wrist, hand and fingers. ULDs can include neck pain. Occasionally these symptoms are the result of a single event – such as trying to lift a very heavy load or a heavy and unbalanced load. They are more commonly the result of the continued repetitive lifting of a load.

The weight of the load is a significant factor in all cases but other factors such as the frequency of lifting, posture during lifting, the environment and physical fitness of the person are as important. Any assessment of a manual handling operation must consider the task, the individual, the load and the environment in which it takes place.

Employers have a primary duty to consider the elimination of manual handling activities. Where the task cannot be eliminated the risks must be assessed and reduced so far as is reasonably practicable to a safe level. The introduction of mechanical aids to assist and small changes to the work process or work procedure can have a big impact on reducing the risk to which workers are exposed.

Workers must be fully trained in manual handling techniques and the training should be specific to the loads that they are required to move whilst at work. If mechanical handling aids are provided workers must also be trained in their use. The training must take account of the manufacturer’s operating instructions and limitations as to use.