Manual handling is one of the main considerations when it comes to ensuring health and safety standards in the workplace. Poor manual handling practice is responsible for a significant portion of injuries and can cause long-term health issues for employees, with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) amongst the most severe. This can cause lasting problems for the individual involved, such as chronic joint pain and repetitive strain injuries, as well as issues for the business. As a result, there is extensive guidance and legislation on the subject to help both employers and employees get manual handling right.
Manual handling is something that happens in every business, whether that’s the occasional carrying of boxes and furniture or shifting materials on a daily basis, so employers need to be aware of what their duties are to their employees within this area. No matter the task, all employers must take in account the points below which cover the relevant manual handling regulations around asking employees to carry out manual handling in order to avoid potential injuries and unnecessary risks.
When there is a potential manual handling task that arises at work, an employer should consider the potential risks and decide whether there is the possibility that an employee could be injured in the course of carrying out the manual handling. If it is determined that an element of risk is involved, then the manual handling task should be avoided if it is reasonably practical to do so. Manual handling can be avoided by approaching tasks in other ways, like questioning whether this step could be automated.
If a manual handling task cannot be avoided, then each step of the process will need to be assessed in regards to safety to ensure that suitable safety procedures are implemented in order to lower the risk to the lowest level that’s reasonably practical. An assessment can be considered sufficient so long as you’ve considered all forms of manual handling an employee will be required to carry out, as well as taking an ergonomic approach to each individual operation, looking at the specific task, the load, the working environment, an employee’s individual capacity to carry out said operation and any other varying factors.
Once you have assessed the manual handling task and identified areas of risk, appropriate steps should be taken to effectively address the problem. This includes ensuring employees are properly trained on correct manual handling techniques, providing as much information about the manual handling task to the relevant employees, having equipment like trollies on hand to help out with tasks and reduce the amount of handling required, and avoiding or reducing how much handling of hazardous materials is required. Employers should also have internal protocols, policies and codes of practice which outline how manual handling in their workplace should be carried out that are available to review on site if needed.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations are the most significant when it comes to this area of safety, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the ‘manual handling act’. This dedicated piece of legislation is designed to help employers and employees manage, control and ultimately reduce the risk of injuries that might come about from poor manual handling practice. One of the most important elements of the legislation is that, when it came into force in 1993, it placed a requirement on employers to take action in respect of manual handling and ensured that they had a responsibility to their employees.
MHOR sets out three main elements that should be followed by employers wherever possible, which are outlined as avoid, assess, and reduce. Avoid means that in any practical scenarios, manual handling should be avoided entirely. If there may be a risk to a person’s health, then the task should simply not be carried out if possible. The second point, to assess, means that any task that can’t be avoided should be thoroughly assessed for its risks. The third and final point, which forms the bulk of the MHOR, is how to reduce risk when manual handling tasks are carried out.
Top Manual Handling FAQs
Pushing and pulling actions should be performed at between shoulder height and elbow height or a little below. Some recommend the optimum level as being 70% to 80% of shoulder height, which is around 100cm for men and 90cm for women.
Get the right posture by making sure your feet are shoulder-width apart, keeping your back straight, tightening your abdominal muscles, bending your knees, squatting down to the floor and looking straight ahead. It may also help to put one knee on the floor and your other knee in front of you bent at a right angle.
When you lift an item, prevent injury by adopting the correct posture. Hold the item close to your body and bend at the knees to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your back.
Position your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your back straight and your core strong. Bend your knees and squatting down keeping your gaze straight ahead.
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For a comprehensive guide on what you can do as an employer to cover your responsibilities around the manual handling regulations, our Manual Handling in the Workplace course will give you all the information you need to make informed decisions for your business. It is also relevant in training staff in the importance of correct manual handling procedures, understanding the impact of incorrect manual handling can have on their health and their own employee responsibilities.