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Last updated: 20.09.17

Making sure your workplace is compliant with manual handling laws

For any well-run business, the safety and wellbeing of workers will always be a key priority. There are few areas where this is more important, especially when it comes to manual handling.

Regardless of whether your company's business model involves physical labour, it's likely that some degree of lifting and carrying is going to take place at some point; as such, managers need to make sure this activity is being carried out safely when it does.

By educating yourself on the laws surrounding manual handling, putting an effective workflow in place and providing proper training, you can make sure that any risks to worker safety can be kept to a minimum.

What is manual handling and what are the risks?

As the wording suggests, manual handling simply describes any workplace activity that involves lifting, carrying, lowering or otherwise carrying or moving a load by hand or bodily force.

Naturally, this is a common task in physical jobs such as construction, but can also come into play in office environments when heavy supplies and furniture are being shifted around. Manual handling must be managed carefully, as this type of activity is the most common cause of accidental injury in the workplace.

Indeed, one in three accidents at work are caused by manual handling, with 300,000 people in the UK suffering from back pain due to manual handling accidents each year. Since damage to the back, neck or spine can lead to extreme pain, incapacity or permanent injury, the stakes involved in getting this right are high.

What are employers' responsibilities when it comes to manual handling?

If any manual handling activities are part of your working processes, then it's essential that you make sure you have carried out risk assessments in line with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and Manual Handling Operations Regulations, regardless of whether the work is happening on-site or elsewhere.

As an employer, it's your responsibility to make sure that any manual handling which poses a risk of injury is avoided wherever possible, and that any risks are properly assessed and reduced if they prove to be unavoidable.

When this kind of work does need to take place, then it's essential that everyone involved has been provided with training, guidance and allowances in line with their individual capabilities, taking into consideration the layout, structure or nature of the work and any lessons learned from previous incidents.

What are the best practice basics?

The circumstances surrounding a given instance of manual handling can vary enough that it's impossible to provide a universal set of instructions on how to lift; however, that doesn't mean it isn't worth learning a few best practice basics.

For example, breaking the load up into smaller, lighter chunks is a good way of reducing the risk where possible, while modifying the layout of the working area to reduce the carrying distance and offer optimal lighting conditions are also advisable. Additionally, consideration should be given to the size and weight of the object in question, particularly if the shape or weight distribution is likely to pose a challenge.

Above all, it's vital that anyone carrying out manual handling has been trained to lift as safely as possible and has been provided with any equipment or protection they might need to do so.

What should a manual handling training course involve?

A well-designed manual handling training course should focus on raising awareness and reducing risk, covering common risk factors and causes of injury, as well as good handling technique and instruction on the appropriate use of mechanical aids.

Incorporating a practical component to the training is also advisable, as this will give the trainer an opportunity to identify and put right any areas where the employee is falling short of safety standards.

However, it's also vital to remember that training alone cannot guarantee safe manual handling, so make sure this is accompanied by regular monitoring and process reviews to ensure that the lessons have been understood and applied. By doing so, companies can make sure that any manual handling activities are fully compliant with the law and that the safety of your staff is receiving the protection it warrants.

Summary: making sure your company is following the rules when it comes to manual handling in the workplace should be considered a key priority from both a legal compliance and a safety perspective.


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