Manual Handling Operations 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; and
- 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 safety;
- Use equipment provided for their safety properly;
- Cooperate with their employer if they identify hazardous handling activities;
- Inform their employer if they identify hazardous handling activities;
- Take care to make sure their activities do not put others at risk.
Manual handling can result in fatigue, and lead to injuries of the back, neck, shoulders, arms or other body parts.
Two groups of injuries may result from manual handling:
- Cuts, bruises, fractures etc, due to sudden, unexpected events such as Accidents
- Damage to the musculoskeletal system of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, bursa, blood vessels and nerves) as a consequence of gradual and cumulative wear and tear through repetitive manual handling. These injuries are called ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ (MSDs) and can be further divided into 3 groups:
- Lower limb disorders
- Neck and upper limb disorders
- Back pain and back injuries.
Work-related low back pain and low back injuries are the most common kind of musculoskeletal disorders caused by manual handling. These work-related low back disorders are a significant and increasing problem in Europe.
About 25% of European workers consider that their work affects their health in the form of back pain, which tops the list of all reported work-related disorders.
The highest proportion of such workers (28-47%) is found in agriculture, construction, transport and communication sectors.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders due to manual handling (e.g. low back disorders) may have serious consequences to workers, and may restrict their ability to undertake a wide range of work and leisure activities for the remainder of their lives - Prevention is vital.
Check whether you need to move it at all.
- Does a large work-piece 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.
Consider automation and using handling aids.
- A conveyor;
- A pallet truck;
- An electric or hand-powered hoist;
- A lift truck
Note: Lift trucks must be suited to the work and have properly trained operators.
Controlling the risks
Think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause most harm.
- Think about your workplace activities and what injuries or harm they could cause.
- Ask your supervisor/co-workers what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.
- Check manufacturers’ instructions for equipment used as they can be very helpful in spelling out hazards.
- Consider any special circumstances, for example, new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, disabled, temporary workers, contractors and lone workers may be at particular risk.
Actions to be considered to control or reduce risks include the following:
If the task involves:
Holding loads away from the body can you use a lifting aid?
Twisting, stooping or reaching can you improve the workplace layout to reduce stooping and reaching?
A large vertical movement can you avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height?
A long carrying distance can you reduce the carrying distance?
Repetitive handling can you vary the work, allowing one set of muscles to rest while the other is used?
If the loads are:
Heavy or bulky can they be broken up?
Difficult to grasp can they be made easier to grasp using handles or similar?
Unstable or awkwardly stacked can it be make stable before moving?
Too large to see over can it be made smaller?
If the load comes from elsewhere can you ask the supplier to help? E.g. by providing handles or using smaller packages?
For Handling Aids and Equipment
Check the device is the correct type for the job.
Make sure it is well maintained.
Wheels or rollers are suitable and run freely.
Handles are between the waist and the shoulder.
Are there brakes and do they work? Have you checked?
- Plan the lift.
- Position yourself over the load.
- Grip the load securely.
- Lift the load keeping it close to the body.
- Move straight ahead - avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways.
- Lower the load safely.
Pushing and Pulling
Aids such as barrows and trolleys should have handle heights that are between the shoulder and waist. Devices should be well maintained with wheels that run smoothly. The law requires that equipment is maintained.
As a rough guide the amount of force that needs to be applied to move a load over a flat, level surface using a well-maintained handling aid is at least 2% of the load weight. For example, if the load weight is 400 kg, then the force needed to move the load is 8 kg. The force needed will be larger, perhaps a lot larger, if conditions are not perfect (eg wheels not in the right position or a device that is poorly maintained). The operator should try to push rather than pull when moving a load, provided they can see over it and control steering and stopping.
Employees should get help from another worker whenever necessary, if they have to negotiate a slope or ramp, as pushing and pulling forces can be very high. For example, if a load of 400 kg is moved up a slope of 1 in 12 (about 5°), the required force is over 30 kg even in ideal conditions – good wheels and a smooth slope. This is above the guideline weight for men and well above the guideline weight for women.
Moving an object over soft or uneven surfaces requires higher forces. On an uneven surface, the force needed to start the load moving could increase to 10% of the load weight, although this might be offset to some extent by using larger wheels. Soft ground may be even worse.
Stance and Pace
To make it easier to push or pull, employees should keep their feet well away from the load and go no faster than walking speed.