Manual Handling – to lift or not to lift

We’ve all been there; the last minute flurry of activity to tidy up the event site before opening- you’re on your own back of house and you need to move that big box of fliers or water bottles to a more appropriate location… and ‘ouch’ – that did not feel like it did your back any favours…

Whether it’s working in a hurry when there’s no one immediately available to help, or if it’s your first day on the job working as local crew unloading trucks full of distro and flight cases… it’s more than likely manual handling will crop up in your time working on an event site.

Manual handling regulations have been well-established for many years, yet many workplaces are still failing to effectively implement the correct manual handling techniques. Failure to ensure the health and safety of employees when working with large or heavy loads can lead to serious injury and may come at a great cost to your business.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling is defined by current regulations as the transport or support of a load by hand or bodily force. This includes lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying, manoeuvring or transporting.

Employers or employees that seriously breach manual handling regulations potentially face large fines and/or a custodial sentence.

Manual handling is one of the key health and safety concerns in the workplace as almost every organisation in any sector will have some form of manual handling activities being carried out. 

If a load cannot be moved safely, the use of mechanical aids or other appropriate equipment may be necessary. However, these can also present their own additional risks.

Manual handling legislation

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) legislation was first introduced in 1992 as part of a series of EC Directives which were adopted into UK legislation and updated in 2002.

The regulations state that an employer must:

  • Avoid the need for hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risk of injury from any manual handling task that cannot be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury from manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.

It is essential that an employer has conducted a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and tried to reduce any risks associated with manual handling.

You can find a handy Manual Handling Assessment Chart here written by the HSE.

Employees should participate in the risk assessment process, attend any relevant manual handling training and implement good manual handling technique whenever they are carrying out such tasks.

Employers (and employees) who do not effectively implement these requirements could be subject to a number of actions from the regulatory authorities, dependent upon the nature of the omission(s).

There are several actions a health and safety executive inspector can take if they identify a concern or a material breach relating to the manual handling regulations. A minor issue or concern identified may receive informal advice whereas more serious issues (for example a lack of manual handling risk assessment) could result in enforcement action being taken. If an officer believes that there has been a material breach of health and safety regulations, an improvement notice may be issued. If this breach presents a risk of serious injury, then a prohibition notice may be provided which stops the activity from being conducted until the problem has been resolved.

Many such cases that are subsequently prosecuted can result in a substantial fine (based upon the turnover, size and nature of the organisation) and a custodial sentence in the most serious cases.

Additionally, injury and ill-health resulting from manual handling activities incur significant costs to society as a whole. It is estimated that 21% of all non-fatal workplace injuries are attributable to manual handling injuries and that one-third (some 156,000) of musculoskeletal disorder injuries are also caused through manual handling activities.

Basic principles of safe moving and handling

There are several factors that can potentially present hazards when carrying out lifting activities. These are a combination of the load, the task, the environment and the individual.

There are some simple steps you can take before and during moving a load.

  1. Plan the lift and carefully consider whether additional lifting aids are needed. A manual handling risk assessment may also be required at this stage.
  2. Reduce the distance of the lift where possible
  3. Map out your route and remove any objections that may cause an obstruction
  4. Wear suitable clothing that doesn’t threaten to obstruct the lift
  5. Ensure you have a good grip on the load, whether lifting, pushing or pulling
  6. Ensure the person handling the load has completed adequate training
  7. Know your limits and be confident to ask for help if needed.

The MHOR does not outline a maximum weight limit for manual handling. The HSE has provided guidance on reasonable weight limits based on the lifting ability of an average fit male or female (see the below image).

The guidelines assume that:

  • The load is easy to grasp with both hands
  • The worker can adopt a stable body position
  • The activity is carried out in reasonable working conditions.

It is important to note that these are general guidelines, individual situations and capabilities still need to be taken into consideration. Situational factors to consider are the strength, fitness, and underlying medical conditions the person might have. Then weight to be lifted and distance to be carried, the nature of the load, the postures to be adopted and the availability of equipment to facilitate the lift.

A task may be made easier if completed by more than one person lifting the load. However, this can present additional problems including obscured vision during the activity and uneven distribution of weight and content.

It may be necessary and appropriate for mechanical aids and/or lifting equipment to be used to safely move the load. In such cases, the operation of the equipment must be conducted by a competent person in a safe manner.

Techniques and posture

To ensure that no injury occurs when moving a load, it is important that the correct technique is used.

To safely lift a load:

  • Place feet hip-width apart with one foot slightly in front of each other
  • Moderate flexion of the back, hips and knees
  • Grasp the load firmly
  • Use the leg muscles to lift the load into a standing position.

Whilst holding the load it is important to remember to:

  • Keep the back straight, avoiding twisting or bending
  • Carry loads with straight arms
  • Keep the head up and face straight ahead when handling a load
  • Keep the load hugged in close to the body while moving.

Common manual handling injuries                           

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) – this include neck and upper limb disorders, lower limb disorders, back pain and back injuries and damage to joints or other tissues in the body
  • Sprains – the painful twisting of the ligaments of a joint
  • Strains or “pulled muscles” – injury to the muscle where the muscle fibres tear
  • Prolapsed discs – a rupture of the cartilage of a spinal disc
  • Hernia – a rupture in the lower abdomen caused by excessive strain on the muscles
  • Crushed limbs – caused by loads falling and trapping limbs
  • Cuts and abrasions – caused by rough, sharp edges on objects.

Some of the injuries listed are superficial but the major injuries that result from poor manual handling techniques are not only costly but can cause lifelong pain and disfigurement.

For advice on training your team on manual handling, risk assessing it sufficiently for your event or including it as part of your on site safety inductions- get in touch.