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Last updated: 23.12.20

Advice on Manual Handling Weight Limits

Manual handling is an integral part of many jobs, and whilst it may seem like a simple task it is actually one of the main causes of accidents and health problems in the workplace.

Up to 75% of injuries caused by manual handling could have been prevented by adhering to safe lifting limits. Whilst it may sometimes be tempting to rush a task that involves handling heavy objects, it is far safer to take your time and ensure that proper lifting techniques are used. 

Manual handling tasks should be minimised as much as possible in every place of work, but in some cases, they will be necessary. In these situations, it is vital that you follow health and safety guidelines and legislation for lifting and moving objects, and never exceed manual handling lifting limits. 

What is Manual Handling? 

Manual handling is a term that refers to a range of different activities that involve moving or supporting a load with your body or hands. This can involve lifting, pushing, lowering, carrying, pulling or transporting a load. Manual handling regulations do not only apply to inanimate objects; they also apply to those who have to lift and move other people in their job, such as care home workers.

The laws on manual handling state that: 

  • Any hazardous manual handling should be avoided as much as possible
  • If hazardous manual handling has to take place, a risk assessment must be completed first
  • The risk of injury from manual handling must be reduced as much as possible before a task is carried out

To ensure that the risk of injury from manual handling is minimised, there are health and safety guidelines for lifting at work which set out the proper techniques for handling, carrying, lowering or lifting heavy loads and give manual handling weight limits. 

What is the Maximum Weight you can Lift at Work? 

There is no legal maximum lifting weight for those handling heavy items in the workplace. This is because lifting items of any weight can cause injury if handled incorrectly, depending on what the load is and the physicality of the person handling it. 

Deciding on an appropriate manual handling weight limit is an employer’s responsibility, who should manage and control the risk of injury from lifting by deciding on how the maximum weight employees should handle, and how frequently. For example, if staff only rarely have to lift heavy objects then they may be able to handle greater weights, whereas those who spend the whole day lifting should have a lower weight limit to avoid strain and injury. 

There are suggested recommendations for manual handling lifting limits which set out guidelines for safe maximum lifting weights for employees. 

The legal manual handling guidelines suggest that the maximum safe lifting weight for a woman is 16kg, and the maximum safe lifting weight for men is 25kg. These recommendations change depending on the height the object is lifted to and how the object is carried, outlined in the tables below. 

Manual Handling Weight Limits for Men 

Height Object is Lifted 

Max Weight Held Close to Body 

Max Weight at Arm's Length 

Head Height 

10kg 

5kg 

Shoulder Height 

20kg 

10kg 

Elbow Height 

25kg 

15kg 

Knuckle Height 

20kg 

10kg 

Mid-Lower Leg Height 

10kg 

5kg 

Manual Handling Weight Limits for Women 

Height Object is Lifted 

Max Weight Held Close to Body 

Max Weight at Arm's Length 

Head Height 

7kg 

3kg 

Shoulder Height 

13kg 

7kg 

Elbow Height 

16kg 

10kg 

Knuckle Height 

13kg 

7kg 

Mid-Lower Leg Height 

7kg 

3kg 

These values apply to items that are being carried at the same height, such as transporting a box from one place to another. 

If an item is being handled between height zones - such as lifting an item from a shelf to the ground - then the lower value for the maximum height should be used. So, if a woman is lowering something from head height to elbow height, the item should not exceed 3kg. 

Two-Person Weight Limits 

Having two people lift an item doesn't mean that the maximum weight limit doubles. Whilst it will make the task much easier, the individual capabilities of each person will affect how much weight can be carried, and doubling the recommended maximum weight is usually unsafe. 

When two people are lifting an item the approximate rule is that you should not exceed 2/3rds of the total sum of both individual’s lifting limits. So if two men, who can carry a maximum of 25kg each, are lifting an object together then the object should not weigh more than around 33kg. 

If three people are lifting an object, the maximum weight of this object should not exceed half of the sum of all individual’s lifting limits.

These manual handling weight limits are only general, meaning that some people will struggle with the maximum weight limit and some will find it easy. There are other factors which should be considered when assessing the risk of a manual handling task, which may reduce the amount an individual can carry. 

You can use the acronym TILE to consider the other factors that might affect the maximum weight you should be handling.

  • Task: Are you going to be handling items for a long time, and is this a task you will be repeating? If your job requires frequent manual handling then you could still be at risk of injury even if you aren’t lifting the maximum weight each time.
  • Individual: What are your physical capabilities as an individual? Traits such as age, height, weight and fitness level will affect the maximum weight you can safely handle, and for how long you can carry out manual handling tasks. 
  • Load: Is the item you are dealing with easy to handle? Bulky, oversized or slippery objects will be harder to carry and lift safely, which will affect the maximum weight you can handle.
  • Environment: Do you have adequate space and visibility? If you are working in cramped conditions then you won’t be able to handle heavy loads safely, and if you cannot see clearly then you are more at risk of injury. 

These factors can all be used to carry out a manual handling risk assessment before any lifting or moving takes place. Whilst the recommended manual handling weight limits are a useful guide, remember to also consider the task, your individual capabilities, the load and your environment before deciding whether a lifting task is safe and risk-free. 

Health and Safety Advice for Manual Handling

Manual handling weight limits are a very important part of ensuring the safe lifting and transportation of items in the workplace. But there is also other guidance you should follow whilst handling items to ensure that the risk of injury is reduced as much as possible. 

Holding, lifting and carrying items with the correct technique is essential to preventing injury or strain. The biggest risk factor of manual handling is that you often don’t initially feel when you are straining or overextending your body, so by the time an issue is identified the damage has already been done. 

Before manual handling takes place, employers or managers should consider the following to remove any unnecessary activity:

  • Could the items be delivered to a location that means no manual handling has to take place?
  • Can the movement of the items be automated?
  • Is there any equipment that can be used to make the movement of items easier?

If none of these is possible, then the correct manual handling techniques must be used, particularly when lifting items that are the maximum recommended weight. 

Do: 

  • Make sure your muscles are warm before any lifting
  • Remove any obstructions from the route you will be taking
  • Plan to stop halfway if you will be handling an item for a long time
  • Keep your back straight and your feet evenly positioned apart
  • Bend from your knees, not your upper body
  • Keep the item as close to your body as possible
  • Distribute the item’s weight equally
  • Stand up and walk as smoothly as possible
  • Lower the object slowly to avoid trapping your fingers

Don’t: 

  • Twist, turn or bend your back
  • Lift the item before you know where it is going
  • Carry the object below your waist or above your shoulders
  • Lift from floor level or shoulder height if possible
  • Look down at the item when you are moving
  • Lift multiple items together when they can be carried separately
  • Adjust your grip whilst carrying an item: set it down first

If your job involves frequent manual handling, your employer is required to give you appropriate training to ensure you aren’t putting yourself at risk. It is also important to speak to your employer if you feel that you are being asked to complete unsafe manual handling tasks, or if you feel you have been injured because of any dangerous lifting.

FAQs 

What does TILE stand for in manual handling? 

TILE is an acronym used in manual handling that stands for Task, Individual, Load and Environment. It refers to the different factors that should be considered when evaluating how risky a manual handling task should be, as each affects the health and safety of the individual involved. 

What is the legislation associated with manual handling? 

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (1992) state that employers have a duty to minimise hazardous manual handling tasks for employees as much as possible, and that proper health and safety training and risk assessment must take place before any manual handling tasks. Employees are required to follow their employer’s safety instructions under these regulations. 

What percentage of RIDDOR reportable accidents are caused by manual handling? 

In the HSE report for 2019/2020, 19% of non-fatal recorded accidents were the fault of carrying or handling items. Overall, 1/3rd of all accidents at work are caused by unsafe manual handling. 

Summary 

Whilst there are no legal limits to the amount of weight you can bear whilst manual handling, the guidelines should be adhered to in order to prevent any unnecessary strain or injury. Every task is different, and in some cases you will have to make your own judgment as to whether the load you are carrying is an unsafe weight. 

As much as possible, stick to or below the manual handling lifting limits at work. You might not see the risk now, but muscle and joint problems can cause numerous problems later in life both at work and at home. Preventative measures are easy to follow and make a big difference, so lift safely and keep them in mind.

You can find the answers to the most common manual handling questions here.

To ensure you are informed of all manual handling regulations and guidelines, you can complete our online Manual Handling in the Workplace course, suitable for anyone whose role involves interacting with heavy items or supervising manual handling tasks. 

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