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Manual Handling Risks and Procedures: An Overview

schedule 22nd August 2017 by Emma Brook in Health and Safety

Lifting heavy box

A huge number of jobs will at some point require some degree of manual handling; whether this means moving items around a warehouse, or lifting boxes of paper in an office.

Unfortunately, these activities are responsible for a very significant number of injuries, which often result in time off (with potential impact on both employer and employee) and in worst case scenarios, even lawsuits. As a result, it’s very important that both employers and their employees understand what their responsibilities are when it comes to safe manual handling, and how they can handle objects in such a way that the risk of injury is reduced.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at how a risk assessment can be carried out, to determine how best to deal with manual handling tasks, and some techniques to make lifting and carrying safer.

Assessing the Risk

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 set out some very clear points in order to make it easier for people to understand how to deal with risk. Firstly, manual handling is defined as the following:

"...any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force".

This covers a very large variety of activities and is likely to be applicable to some degree in all workplaces. The Regulations then set out three steps that are designed to reduce risk as much as possible. They are the following:

  • The first point is that you should, if at all possible, avoid any manual handling activities if it is practical to do so. If it’s not absolutely necessary to perform lifting jobs, then don’t do it. This is the very best way of avoiding injury, which often occurs when people are in a rush, and undertake unnecessary manual handling risks.
  • The second point is really important, which is to properly assess any manual handling operations that you or any other employee feel are necessary to undertake. For example, you should not try to lift something to see how difficult it is. Take a minute to determine whether the job can realistically be carried out safely - is the object very heavy or awkward to carry? Could it be dangerous if dropped? Are you pulling something that might not stop once in motion? Is there any equipment designed to make this task easier?
  • The third and final point is to reduce the risk as much as possible while you carry out the operation by using the assessment in point two. We’re going to go through some of the best techniques to make lifting safer and easier in the next section, but you should also consider if you can use machinery or equipment that might help you, or even reduce the distance that you might have to carry something.

Note: If tasks are performed regularly, then documented manual handling procedures are very useful indeed, and in some industries and applications, mandated by law. These should cover the exact details of points two and three as described above, for the specific manual handling operation. These are extremely helpful in preventing injury and also set a standard should there be a legal dispute.

Lifting Techniques

Lifting objects is the main cause of manual handling injuries in the workplace, and they very frequently occur as a result of poor lifting technique. Below are some steps that you can follow to make lifting operations safer:

  • Ensure that you’ve done everything you can to reduce risk as described in points two and three of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.
  • Stand with your legs slightly apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other beside the object you’re about to pick up. This will help ensure you keep your balance.
  • Move to get hold of the object, bearing in mind that the closer it is to your body and the more contact you have with it, the easier the task will be.
  • Begin to lift the object without excessively bending your back, knees or hips. Most people know not to lift with their backs, but it’s also important not to put too much strain on the knees by lifting from a squat.
  • Keep whatever you are holding as close to your body as possible as you carry it.
  • Avoid twisting the body as you walk - it is far safer to move using your feet than your waist.
  • While walking, make sure that your head stays straight forward - this will reduce strain on you neck, as well as ensuring you don’t trip.
  • When putting something heavy down, move it into place after you’ve done so, rather than trying to handle it into place.

For further information on making manual handling safer in the workplace, our Moving & Handling Objects and People may be helpful. Click here to find out more.

Related resources

Emma Brook - Virtual College

Author: Emma Brook

Emma works in the marketing design team at Virtual College and works on a variety of print and digital design projects. In her spare time she enjoys going to gigs and the theatre.

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