27th September, 2023
Manual handling might not seem high risk, but it is actually one of the most common causes of workplace injuries. The importance of safe manual handling techniques can therefore mean the difference between a productive day at work or being off work with a bad back!
When you move, carry, lift, push or pull something, you are manual handling. If you carry a book, a box, a tool, or materials, 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 what's the problem? Why does manual handling have a set of health and safety regulations?
We lift and carry things at home, and we do it at work. It's normal.
Well, it is normal to carry things, but it's also risky. 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 injuries are rarely 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. But it's not always what you carry - it's also how you carry it.
While work involving heavy manual labour such as construction work is higher risk, manual handling injuries happen to workers in all industries.
The first rule of manual handling is to eliminate manual handling. 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. Elimination is the most effective control measure. This might be possible by having materials delivered to their place of use or installing equipment like conveyor belts.
But it's not always possible to eliminate manual handling and that's when safe manual handling techniques become important.
Safe manual handling is important to protect you from the pain and suffering that come with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Awkward postures, poor lifting techniques, and failing to route plan will all increase the risk of injury during manual handling tasks.
If you are putting too much strain on your back, or not lifting with a stable body, you are more likely to pull a muscle or slip a disc.
Your manual handling technique can mean the difference between a productive day at work or being off work with a bad back!
- ii. 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, the correct manual handling technique should not stop with the lift. It is important to also consider what you are carrying, and where you are carrying it.
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 health risks, work is not a weightlifting 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.
I'm not going to say that a good manual handling technique eliminates all of the risks associated with manual handling. It doesn't.
Even with perfect manual handling technique, if you try to:
You will probably get injured. Those injuries will have nothing to do with your manual handling technique. It will be because the load burnt you, cut you, or you tripped. Or you strained yourself because the load was just too heavy.
When you are manual handling, there are more things than your technique to consider. You need to assess the load, the individual, the task and the environment (LITE).
Manual handling technique mostly focuses on the individual, and how they lift and carry to reduce the risk. And that's great, because it's the person who you are trying to protect, but it's still just one of the four areas of manual handling.
But once you have assessed the load, the individual, the task and the environment, and decided that manual handling is a safe option, then using good manual handling techniques will reduce the risk of injury because it:
It's not always possible to eliminate manual handling, and often it will be necessary to lift and carry things at work. In this case, and especially if there is a risk of injury, it is important to complete a manual handling risk assessment.
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, and training your team in safe manual handling techniques.
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 get trained in safe manual handling techniques as part of your employment.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
Take our manual handling elearning course and get your certificate today.Course Info
Manual handling might not seem high risk, but it is actually one of the most common causes of workplace injuries. The importance of safe manual handling techniques can therefore mean the difference between a productive day at work or being off work with a bad back!Read Post
Manual handling is more than just what you lift and carry. It's also who, how, and where. In this blog post, we look at the four key areas of manual handling, and how you can assess and control the risks involved.Read Post
When you are manual handling, you need to know about TILE. But what is TILE? TILE is the four key areas you need to consider when lifting or carrying - Task, Individual, Load, and Environment.Read Post