When you move, carry, lift, push or pull something, you are manual handling. If you carry a book, a box, a tool or material, you are manual handling. Sometimes the item might be so light, you can move it without much effort. Other times, it might be more tricky, for example, due to its weight or size.
Manual handling is an everyday task in most workplaces, whether you are filing paperwork in the office, stacking shelves in a shop, or bricklaying on site. Goods and materials, tools and equipment, all have to be moved, lifted and carried throughout the day.
“manual handling operations” means any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or by bodily force.
If we carry things all the time, then why is manual handling so important? Why does manual handling have a set of health and safety regulations? What's the big deal?
Well, because when manual handling goes wrong, people get hurt. And it happens more often than you might think. In fact, manual handling is one of the leading causes of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These are disorders affecting muscles, joints and tendons in all parts of the body. A massive 6.6 million working days were lost due to MSDs in the UK in 17/18 according to HSE statistics.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders account for 24% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health.
Manual handling might not seem high risk, but it is actually one of the most common causes of workplace injuries. Manual handling might not be fatal, but the harm can be long-term and painful.
You might think you only need to worry about manual handling if you are carrying heavy or large items. However, it's not always what you carry, but how you carry that matters. While work involving heavy manual labour such as construction work is higher risk, manual handling injuries happen to workers in all industries.
Now we know why manual handling is important, and the large proportion of injuries that it causes. Safe manual handling is important to protect you from the pain and suffering that come with MSD's.
Awkward postures, poor lifting techniques, and failing to route plan will all increase the risk of injury during manual handling tasks. The importance of safe manual handling techniques can mean the difference between a productive day at work or being off work with a bad back!
- take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to those employees arising out of their undertaking any such manual handling operations to the lowest level reasonably practicable
Safe manual handling techniques tend to focus on the initial lift, and it is important to get this stage of the process right. Bent legs, straight back, load close to the body, avoiding strain on the muscles of the back. However, safe manual handling should not stop there, it is important to also consider what your carrying, and where you are carrying it to.
For example, the heaviest side of the load should be closest to your body to minimise strain when carrying, and you should grip the load with your palms, rather than your fingers.
Safe manual handling techniques are important because the right technique can significantly reduce the risk of injury.
Find out more about how to lift safely in our blog post, how to correct your manual handling technique.
That’s not to say that the right technique alone means that any handling challenge can be taken without risk to health, work is not a weight lifting competition! Manual handling training and knowing how to lift is a good place to start when practising safe manual handling. But, no matter how good your technique is, if you try to lift a load that is too heavy for your capabilities, you are at risk of injury.
The first rule of manual handling is to eliminate manual handling. That's right. Because there is no safer way to handle something, than not to handle it at all! It's not always possible, but if you can eliminate manual handling, you should. This might be possible by having materials delivered to their place of use, or installing equipment like conveyor belts.
It's not always possible to eliminate manual handling, and often it will be necessary. In this case, and especially if there is a risk of injury, it is important to complete a manual handling risk assessment. This will allow you to assess the load, the individual, the task and the environment (LITE).
Once you have considered the hazards and specifics of your manual handling task, you can decide if extra safety measures are needed. Like mechanical aids or a team lift.
Don’t wait for an injury to occur before taking action, learn the correct lifting and carrying techniques, and understand the risks and precautions needed when handling loads.
If your work involves regular manual handling, you should be trained in safe manual handling techniques as part of your employment.