Manual Handling at Work Training Resource

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The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) 1992, as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002, apply to a wide range of manual handling activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying. The load may be either animate, such as a person or an animal, or inanimate, such as a box or a trolley.

What’s the problem?

Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) which account for over a third of all workplace injuries. Manual handling injuries can occur in any place of work. Heavy manual labour, awkward postures, manual materials handling and previous or existing injury are all risk factors in developing MSDs.

What should you do?

Consider the risks from manual handling to your own health, safety and wellbeing. Consult and be involved within the workplace. As an employee you will know first-hand what the risks in the workplace are and can offer practical solutions to controlling them.

The Regulations require employers to:

  • Avoid the need for hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling that can’t be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable

Employees have duties too. They should:

  • Follow systems of work in place for their safety
  • Use equipment provided for their safety properly
  • Cooperate with their employer on health and safety matters
  • Inform their employer if they identify hazardous handling activities
  • Take care to make sure their activities do not put others at risk

Avoiding manual handling

Check whether you need to move it at all, for example:

  • Does a large workpiece really need to be moved, or can the activity e.g. wrapping or machining be done safely where the item already is?
  • Can raw materials be delivered directly to their point of use?

Think about automation, mechanisation and using handling aids. For example:

  • A conveyor
  • A pallet truck
  • An electric or hand-powered hoist
  • A lift truck

But beware of new hazards from automation or mechanisation, for example

  • An automated plant still needs cleaning, maintenance etc.
  • Lift trucks must be suited to the work and have properly trained operators

Assessing and controlling the risks

Risk is part of everyday life so it should not be expected to eliminate all risks. Part of managing the health and safety within the workplace is assessing and controlling the risks. This means identifying what might cause harm to people and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks, not about creating huge amounts of paperwork.

A risk assessment should consider the following:

  • How accidents and ill health could happen, concentrating on real risks
  • Risks that are most likely and which will cause the most harm
  • Workplace activities, processes and the substances used that could injure or harm people
  • Asking employees what the hazards are, they will be aware of things that may not be obvious to employers and can suggest how to control the risks
  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment, as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards
  • Particular requirements for workers, for example: new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors and lone workers
  • Making a record of the significant findings, the hazards, the risks and what measures are in place to control them
  • Producing records that are simple and focused on controls

Problem areas to consider when making an assessment include:

  • The task: holding, bending, twisting, stooping, carrying, distance, repetitive?
  • The load: weight, height, shape, unstable, awkward, too large?
  • The environment: restrictions, obstructions, slippery floors, hot/cold conditions, poor lighting?
  • Individual capacity: required strength, hearing/vision impairments, skills & abilities?
  • Equipment: correct device, well maintained, wheels suited to floor, handle heights & grips suitable?
  • Organisation factors: work methods, machinery & aids, demands on employees, communications?

To reduce the risk of injury, consider the following:

  • Use of equipment, reduce twisting & stooping, avoid lifting, vary work, push don’t pull?
  • Make the load less bulky, easier to hold, more stable, evenly stacked?
  • Remove obstructions, avoid steps, improve lighting, prevent extremes of hot & cold
  • Use appropriate and suitable clothing, footwear and PPE
  • Be informed about the task and follow appropriate safety measures and training

Good handling technique for lifting

Here are some practical tips, suitable for use in safe manual handling.

Good handling technique for pushing and pulling

Some practical points to remember when loads are pushed or pulled.

  • Handling devices & aids should have handle heights that are between the shoulder and waist
  • Equipment should be well maintained with wheels that run smoothly
  • Be aware of the force required to move large objects
  • Be aware of your environment and conditions
  • Always try to pull rather than push when moving a load and face the direction of travel
  • Be aware of slopes and uneven surfaces and soft ground
  • Always ask for help from a colleague when necessary
  • Remember your stance and walking speed when moving a load

How do you know if there’s a risk of injury?

It’s a matter of judgement, however there are certain things to look out for such as:

  • People puffing and sweating
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Bad posture
  • Cramped work areas
  • Awkward or heavy loads
  • People with a history of back trouble
  • Tasks which are unpopular, difficult or hard work

General risk assessment guidelines

There is no such thing as a completely ‘safe’ manual handling operation. But working within the following guidelines will cut the risk and reduce the need for a more detailed assessment.

Figure 1 below shows the safe weight guidelines for lifting and lowering in different zones. You will see the guideline weights are reduced if handling is done with arms extended, or at high or low levels, as this is where injuries are most likely to happen.

Be aware of the work activity you are doing and compare it to the diagram.

Decide which box or boxes your hands pass through when moving the load, assessing the maximum weight. If it is less than the figure given in the box, the operation is within the guidelines.

If your hands enter more than one box during the operation, use the smallest weight. Use an in-between weight if the hands are close to a boundary between boxes.

The guideline weights assume that the load is readily grasped with both hands and the operation takes place in reasonable working conditions, with the lifter in a stable body position.

Figure 1

Twisting – Reduce the guideline weights if the handler twists to the side during the operation.

Frequent lifting and lowering – The guideline weights are for infrequent operations. Reduce the weights if the operation is repeated more often.

Table 2 below shows the weight loads for pushing and pulling. The task is within the guidelines if the figures are not exceeded:

Using the results: is a more detailed assessment required?

Using Figure 1 is a first step. If it shows the manual handling task is within the guideline figures (bearing in mind the reduced limits for twisting and frequent lifts) a more detailed assessment should not be required.

A more detailed assessment will be required if:

  • The conditions given for using the guidelines are not met
  • The person doing the lifting has reduced capacity, e.g. through ill health or pregnancy
  • The handling task must take place with the hands beyond the boxes in the diagram
  • The guideline figures in the diagram are exceeded

For pushing and pulling, you should make a more detailed assessment if:

  • There are extra risk factors like uneven floors or constricted spaces
  • The worker can’t move the load with their hands between knuckle and shoulder height
  • The load has to be moved for more than about 20m without a break
  • The guideline figures in Table 2 are likely to be exceeded

Does this mean the guidelines must not be exceeded?

No. The risk assessment guidelines are not ‘safe limits’ for lifting. However, working outside the guidelines is likely to increase the risk of injury, so the task should be assessed for possible improvements. The aim should be to make the work less demanding, if it is reasonably practicable to do so. The main duty is to avoid lifting operations that have a risk of injury. Where it is not practicable to do this, assess each lifting operation and reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level reasonably practicable. Look carefully at higher risk operations to make sure they have been properly assessed.

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