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30th August, 2018

Manual Handling And The Maximum Weight You Can Lift

Manual handling is found in nearly every workplace in one form or another. Whether you are moving boxes in an office, carrying bricks on a construction site, or even lifting people in health professions.

Lifting, moving and carrying are part of most jobs, from time to time, or all the time.

But just because manual handling is common, doesn't make it safe.

So how much weight is safe to lift and carry at work? First, let's look at some stats.

507,000 workers were suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2016/17, and over 8.9 million working days were lost. That's a lot of suffering!

Manual handling is the leading cause of musculoskeletal disorders including back disorders and upper limb disorders.

In fact, lifting and carrying accounted for 22% of all non-fatal injuries.

With manual handling being the leading cause of musculoskeletal disorders at work, it’s important to know how much you can safely lift, and what the maximum lifting weights are.

Ok, so back to the question, how much is too much when it comes to manual handling?

Well, there is no ‘safe lifting weight’ or ‘maximum lifting weight’ set by the regulations.

That might surprise you, often, people think there is a limit, for example, 25kg per person, but that's not the case.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations set no specific weight limit requirements.

The law does not identify a maximum weight limit. It places duties on employers to manage or control risk; measures to take to meet this duty will vary depending on the circumstances of the task.

It is easy to see why setting a weight limit would not be practical. People are all different and have different capabilities.

The world’s strongest man could safely lift a weight above that of the average male.

People’s requirements and capabilities can also change over time.

There are, however, guidance weights, published by the HSE (which is where the 25kg for men often comes from).

manual handling weight guidelines
Published by the HSE and licensed under the Open Government Licence

But these guidance weights shouldn't be confused with a weight limit. Rather they give basic guideline amounts for lifting and lowering which indicate when a more detailed risk assessment should be carried out.

If you are outside of these guideline amounts, you need to be carrying out a more detailed manual handling risk assessment.

But even if you are inside the guidelines, you need to put the I in LITE and think about the individual.

Learn how to apply LITE to your manual handling assessments with our blog post Manual Handling? Think LITE!

The elderly members of your workforce may not be comfortable lifting what they used to, and pregnant workers, and workers with medical conditions or injuries most certainly shouldn’t be lifting what they used to.

You should also take into account the task.

For example, you may be comfortable lifting a weight of 15kg twice a day as part of your job, maybe even once an hour. But what if you were required to lift the weight repeatedly throughout the day, every minute?

Would that be practical? Would it be safe?

The above highlights the need to assess manual handling operations individually, and helps to explain why the regulations shy away from setting a ‘safe lifting weight’.

Different conditions and different people mean each manual handling operation is unique.

Your assessment should consider all of the following:

  1. the task
  2. the load
  3. the working environment
  4. individual capabilities
  5. other factors, for example, use of protective clothing

Don’t forget, all of the above categories are important and one may influence the other. As we discussed in the example above, individual capabilities may change based on the task and the load.

The working environment can also have a big impact on the safety of manual handling operations, affecting posture and lifting positions.

When assessing the safety of manual handling operations remember to follow the hierarchy of controls set out in the regulations which include:

  1. Avoid manual handling as far as reasonably practicable
  2. Make a suitable assessment of any hazardous manual handling operations that can’t be avoided
  3. Reduce the risk of injury as far as reasonably practicable, through mechanical assistance or changing the task, load or working environment to improve safety

Need help creating your manual handling risk assessment? Download our manual handling risk assessment template to create a professional assessment and ensure you have covered all areas.

This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and a degree in construction management. She is NEBOSH qualified and a member of IOSH.

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