Manual handling

09 July 2019

A common task around many businesses is manually moving objects. It happens in a wide variety of industries, particularly construction, hospitality, and retail.

As a health & safety issue, it’s essential to understand the basic requirements for moving items. Even basic knowledge helps stop unnecessary injuries in your workplace, ones that could lead to absences or legal proceedings.

You should read our guide to understand the right procedures to follow in your organisation.

What is manual handling at work?

It involves any activity with staff members transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. This includes:

  • Putting objects down.
  • Moving items.

Excessive lifting and straining can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in your workforce. Other manual handling hazards include:

  • Repeated tasks involving high forces.
  • Awkward postures.
  • Repetitive movements.
  • Exposure to severe vibrations.
  • Handling unstable loads.

All of these can lead to injuries, mentally and physically, which could result in an employment tribunal against your business.

That’s the worst-case scenario, but one you can avoid by following the correct laws.

The laws you need to follow

Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) you need to apply control measures across your business to reduce the risk of injury.

This is for when employees deal with loads they need to handle. Current laws consider a “load” as either an:

This means under current manual handling legislation you’ll have various factors to keep in mind when considering how your employees go about moving items around your working environment.

There are certain steps to consider for any object that requires moving:

  • The amount of twisting, turning, stretching, or bending an employee will have to do.
  • How far an individual will have to carry a load.
  • The weight of an object.

You need to keep this in mind due to the potential for back injury, which is a common reason for many employees miss work.  

Along with risk assessments to understand where there are problems in your working environment, you can train your workforce for awareness about safety during any physical tasks.

Manual handling and weight limits

Under MHOR there are no specifications for the absolute limit an employee can lift. In other words, British law doesn’t identify a weight limit.

But you should be aware of a common manual handling maximum weight recommendation. A single employee can manage, if they’re in good physical condition, a load of 25 kg.

That’s The suggested for lifting and setting down an object at waist height is a load of 25 kg .

Some businesses may consider a “no lifting” policy, but MHOR doesn’t endorse this. Manual handling is a common occurrence in many businesses—the best approach is to ensure employees know what to do.

The HSE has manual handling assessment charts you can look to for guidance.

Manual handling training for your business

Training procedures are important. They help make your employees aware of how to go about manual tasks properly.

The Health & Safety at Work Act indicates you must provide your employees with this training. This is particularly the case for:

  • Warehouses and factories.
  • Delivery drivers.
  • Office environments.
  • Construction sites.
  • Loading and unloading tasks.
  • Manual labouring roles.

As part of the training, manual handling guidelines under MHOR indicate the following three-step process you’ll need to follow:

  1. Where possible, avoid the requirement for manual handling to lower the possibility of an injury. Under MHOR, you should do this as far as “reasonably practicable”. Ways to overcome this include redesigning tasks or making carrying requirements manageable (such as by breaking objects down into smaller loads).
  2. When manual handling must occur, you should examine what it involves and make note of any risks. Make a note of the:
    1. Tasks that will take place.
    2. Loads for lifting.
    3. Weight and size of these loads.
    4. Working environment. Plus, how this affects what your employees will do—such as the amount of space they have available to them.
    5. The capabilities of each employee.
  3. Reduce the possibilities for a member of staff to suffer an injury. You can use safe systems after any risk assessment you have. Other options include reducing the weight of items to the lowest possible limit.

You can guide your staff across the correct techniques for safe manual handling, which includes:

  • Lifting: Can the employee lift the object without assistance? If they can, adopt a stable position with one leg forward to maintain balance. Take hold of the object and hold it close to the body. When they start lifting, bend at the back and straighten up into a standing position.
  • Pushing or pulling loads: Use an aid with a handle height for assistance. Employees should always try to push rather than pull, where possible. Make it easier to do either by keeping feet away from the object—don’t move faster than walking speed.

Need more help?

We’re experts in health & safety issues at work, so get in touch for guidance across your business: 0800 028 2420.

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