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Manual Handling Guidelines: Safe Manual Lifting at Work

Manual Handling Guidelines: Safe Manual Lifting at Work

by Dan Casey

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Manual handling guidelines: Safe manual lifting at work

Manual handling plays a large part in a whole host of industries, from construction to healthcare. But, lifting and carrying heavy loads can be dangerous if all of the relevant regulations aren't followed, the conditions are less than ideal, or staff aren't trained to carry out manual handling tasks in the safest way possible.

To help employers fulfil all of their responsibilities and ensure workers know exactly how to keep themselves and others safe, we've put together this comprehensive guide to manual lifting. It explains everything from what is classed as manual handling to the ways you can reduce how much manual handling your work requires. Read on to learn more.

What is manual handling?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 [PDF] define manual handling as "…any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force".

Essentially, if any of your work involves moving loads without the help of equipment, this is considered to be manual handling. It's also worth noting that the term "load" isn't limited to inanimate objects: it can include people and animals, too.

What are the risks of manual handling?

Regularly lifting, carrying, or supporting loads without the help of specialist equipment is a common cause of workplace injuries. In fact, according to Unison, one in three accidents at work are caused by manual handling, and stats from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that lifting and handling are responsible for 22% of all non-fatal injuries to UK employees.

It's not just acute trauma caused by accidents that employers and staff need to prevent, either: the frequent lifting and carrying of heavy objects can also cause the gradual and cumulative deterioration of the musculoskeletal system over time. So, it's important that employers take steps to protect their staff, and workers ensure they're always working in the safest way possible.

There are factors that can increase the chance of workers suffering from manual handling–related injuries, and these need to be considered. For example, a load should never be too heavy, large, or difficult to grasp. It's also important that tasks are never too strenuous, and that they don't require awkward postures or movements. Of course, manual handling should always be carried out in a safe space, too: there should be sufficient room, the floor shouldn't be slippery, the ground needs to be even, and there shouldn't be extreme temperatures or poor lighting.

What is a manual handling risk assessment?

Whenever a manual handling operation is necessary, employers are required to arrange for a risk assessment to be carried out. This will allow you to identify any issues that could lead to any of your workers getting injured, as well as provide you with the chance to take steps to prevent this from happening.

First, it's vital that you establish whether the manual handling task is actually necessary: if there's a way to complete the job using specialist equipment instead, that's the route you should go down. If you decide that manual handling is the only way to get the work done, you'll then need to carry out the risk assessment using the 'TILEO' acronym. Here's what those letters stand for:

Task Does the manual handling task involve any:
  • Twisting
  • Stooping
  • Bending
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Positioning the load
  • Sudden movement
  • Not enough rest or recovery
  • Team handling
  • Seated work
Individual Is the person:
  • Pregnant
  • Disabled
  • Suffering from health problems
Load Is the load:
  • Heavy
  • Difficult to grip
  • Sharp
  • Hot
  • Cold
  • Likely to move
Environment Within the environment, is/are there:
  • Space constraints
  • Uneven flooring
  • Slippery flooring
  • Unstable flooring
  • A difference in floor levels
  • Poor conditions (e.g. extreme hot or cold)
Other factors
  • Is movement or posture hindered by clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE)?
  • Is there an absence of the correct/suitable PPE being worn?

Considering all of these points should give you a good idea of what risks there are. Then, you can go on to address these issues or find another way to complete the job if you feel it's too dangerous.

What are the Manual Handling Regulations?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 [PDF] are in place to help employers, managers, safety representatives, and employees to reduce the risk of injury from manual handling. As well as outlining employers' responsibilities, they explain what steps workers should be taking to keep themselves and others safe.

What duties do employers have?

If you're an employer, the Regulations require you 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"

And, it's vital that you don't just look at the Manual Handling Regulations in isolation: you also need to consider regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This requires employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees while at work.

Consult employees

It's an employer's responsibility to consult their employees on matters of health and safety. If your workplace has a recognised trade union, this will usually be through union health and safety representatives. Otherwise, you can consult either directly or through other elected representatives.

Your consultations should involve giving important information to your employees, as well as listening to any concerns they might have before you make any health and safety decisions.

It's important that your staff have a say because, while you might watch over everything they do, you might not have a comprehensive knowledge of what problems they encounter on a daily basis. As well as dedicating time to asking them for any guidance they can give you, you should also encourage them to come to you if they have any concerns in the future. For more information, make sure you read the Health and Safety Executive's guide to consulting employees on health and safety.

Carry out risk assessments wherever relevant

In situations where it's not possible to avoid a manual handling operation, as an employer, it's your responsibility to carry out a risk assessment. This will allow you to work out exactly what risks an operation poses to your staff, so you can then take precautions to prevent any avoidable accidents or injuries. We've explained what a manual handling risk assessment is and how they need to be carried out [EP1] above.

What duties do employees have?

Employees also have their own responsibilities when it comes to staying safe. For example, they must take reasonable care for their own health and safety, as well as that of others who may be affected by their activities. Additionally, staff are required to co-operate with any health and safety practices or protocols put in place by an employer.

In addition to this, as outlined by the Management Regulations, employees must make use of appropriate equipment provided for them, in accordance with the training and any instructions they've been given.

What are manual handling techniques?

It's important that anyone who lifts heavy objects as part of their job knows how to do this in the safest way possible. Employers should provide adequate training, but we're also going to cover some of the basic techniques that employees need to know.

Manual handling techniques for lifting

Before carrying out a manual handling task, you should always make sure that it's completely necessary. If there's equipment you can use to take the strain off you, do it. But, if manual handling is required, you need to make sure you do everything in the safest way possible.

Firstly, always plan your lift. Know exactly what you're going to be lifting and where it needs to go. Plan your route, clear the way, and plan any rest stops you might need to make along the way.

Before lifting, you'll also need to get into a stable position. The best way to do this is by standing with your feet apart, one foot slightly in front to help you maintain your balance. If the load you're going to be lifting is on the ground, your foot should be to the side of it.

The next step is to get a good hold on the load you're going to lift. Wherever possible, hug the load close to your body, as this will usually provide more stability than just gripping it with your hands.

You need to start in a good posture: slightly bending your back, hips, and knees is much better than fully flexing your back (stooping) or your hips and knees (squatting). It's also important to make sure that you don't flex your back further during the lift. This can happen if you straighten your legs before lifting the load.

During the lift, and especially while your back is bent, try to avoid twisting or leaning sideways. Your shoulders should always be kept at the same level and pointing in the same direction as your hips. Turning by moving your feet, rather than twisting your body, will also help to prevent you from getting injured.

Also, you should always move smoothly while handling a load. It shouldn't be snatched or jerked around, as this can make it harder for you to keep control of the lift. You should only ever lift loads that you can manage, too. Over-exerting yourself will only make the task far more dangerous and, if you're in doubt about whether you're able to lift a particular load, seek advice from your manager or employer.

Finally, if specific positioning of a load is necessary, don't feel like you need to do everything in one go. It's usually much safer to put something down in a way that's comfortable, before sliding it into the desired position.

What are the manual handling guidelines?

The law around manual handling doesn't specify a maximum weight that can be lifted, but there are general guidelines that employers and staff should take into consideration. According to Workplace Safety Advice, it's recommended that men don't lift anything heavier than 25kg, and women shouldn't lift items that are heavier than 16kg. Although, there are other factors that need to be taken into account, such as how high something needs to be lifted.

For example, if a worker is stacking shelves and lifting things above shoulder height, it's recommended that men avoid lifting anything over 10kg, and women stick to stacking items that are 7kg or less. This weight drops down to 5kg for men and 3kg for women when an object needs to be held away from the body.

As you can see, the safe limit for manual handling can depend on a lot of different factors. You need to consider everything from an individual's body strength to how far an item needs to be carried. And, risk assessments should be carried out for all lifting, so employers need to decide if the tasks their employees are given are safe on a case-by-case basis.

What is manual handling training?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to ensure all of their employees are trained and competent in manual handling.

Manual handling training is designed to teach workers about the risks of lifting and carrying heavy objects, as well as how to minimise them. It typically outlines the safest manual handling techniques, how to use the mechanical aids that might be available, and how to assess whether a particular space is going to provide a safe environment for completing a manual handling task.

How often should manual handling training be given?

There are no set guidelines as to how often your staff should be given manual handling training. However, that doesn't mean you can train them once, tick a box, and assume they'll always know how to keep themselves and others safe. Instead, workers' initial training should be supplemented with monitoring and reviews of procedures in order to ensure the training is being applied.

Can manual handling be avoided completely?

As we've touched on throughout this guide, both employers and employees should look to avoid manual handling wherever possible. A lot of tasks can be carried out with the help of specialist lifting equipment, rather than just by hand.

Here at Penny Hydraulics, we have a wide range of mechanical handling products that will help to reduce how big of a part manual handling plays in your work. Our vehicle-mounted lifting equipment is ideal for helping staff to load heavy items onto a truck bed or into the back of a van, which will be beneficial if your work involves making pick-ups or deliveries. We also offer goods lifts that will make light work of moving heavy loads between levels. These are relied upon by businesses in a huge range of sectors, from manufacturing to retail.

If you would like to relieve the strain on your employees and reduce the risk of them getting injured through manual handling, investing in specialist equipment that can take a lot of the weight is the way to go. Contact us to discuss your requirements today.

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