Last updated: 20.05.22

What Is the Manual Handling Hierarchy of Control?

What Is the Manual Handling Hierarchy of Control?

Whether you are lifting very heavy items or undertaking lighter tasks, it is important to assess how to do this properly to avoid any form of injury as a result of manual handling.

Many different types of jobs involve manual handling, with some being less strenuous than others. The obvious professions such as construction, healthcare and retail all require the heavy lifting, moving or pushing of either items or people, but jobs in cleaning and catering can also involve manual handling at times.

To guide employers and employees on manual handling and the hierarchy of control, this article helps you to understand what manual handling is, what the hierarchy of control is and how the two go hand in hand to create a safer workplace. 

What is Manual Handling?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (1992) define manual handling as: “Transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”.

Many of us will come across manual handling during our careers, whether this is something such as moving a box or working with heavier goods in construction or a warehouse. The act of lifting or moving any load can be classed as manual handling, and these loads can be either inanimate objects or living people and animals.

With one in three accidents at work being caused by manual handling and over 300,000 people in the UK each year suffering from back pain as a result of manual handling accidents (Unison, Manual Handling), you must be aware of what this practice is and how to carry it out properly. 

All employers legally have to protect their staff from potential manual handling injury, which is usually done through training on how to handle items at work properly, or how to carry out a task safely. Manual handling training and support is especially important in industries where the risk of handling certain items is much higher. Although, there are many other job roles and workplaces where manual handling can come into place and should be addressed regularly, to ensure safety for all.

Risks of Improper Manual Handling 

Risks of poor manual handling can either be long or short term, with varying severities. It is important to keep an eye on any ongoing aches or pains and get these checked as soon as possible if you conduct regular manual handling, as prolonged cases of poor manual handling can sometimes result in long term injuries.

The most common injuries caused by unsafe manual handling are; 

  • Broken bones
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Sprains and strains 
  • Joint ache/muscle pain
  • Back problems 
  • Arm or leg pain
  • Inflammation 
  • OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome)

In rare and extreme cases of improper manual handling, there have been occasions in which people have been crushed or had falls that have resulted in fatalities.

What is the Hierarchy of Control?

The hierarchy of control is a health and safety framework that can be used alongside manual handling to create a consistent and safe approach to safely lifting and moving objects or people in the workplace.

To implement health and safety at work and control employees' exposure to hazards, potential risks must first be identified so that they can be addressed and managed properly. The hierarchy of control works as a checklist to ensure that the appropriate steps are in place when undertaking manual handling at work.

Six stages of control measures have been identified for working in an environment where manual handling is present. Each of the six controls are listed and explained below.

  • Avoid The Need For Manual Handling (Elimination)

There are cases in which manual handling cannot be avoided in the workplace. However, it is important to first assess how necessary it is for employees to manually handle loads as part of their work. Can it be avoided? Are there other ways to move this item that doesn't require manual handling?

An example of this might occur when a delivery arrives. Is the delivery company able to carry out the manual handling and move the items to wherever they need to be stored? Usually, these companies are fully trained and have the proper equipment for lifting and moving heavy loads, which saves your employees the hassle of having to move any loads themselves.

There may also be the occasion in which manual handling can be avoided by simply leaving the item where it is. For example, these instances may arise when decorating, where instead of moving the item you can just cover it up and work around it, thus avoiding manual handling altogether.

  • Reduce The Load (Substitution)

Substituting heavy loads for lighter items lowers the risks associated with manual handling as the item then becomes much easier to carry and therefore poses less of a risk.

Where it is not possible to reduce the number of items, it may be helpful to decrease the weight on each load. For example, is there an option to split the loads? Can the weight be distributed across many individuals? This will help share out the weight load which ultimately reduces the risks and injury that may occur when lifting heavy items.

If it isn’t possible to share the weight of a load, many organisations now purchase products in bulk and ensure that they are delivered by a company that can transport the goods to storage for them. Regular delivery helps to lower the number of products that need to be delivered each time, which reduces the overall weight of the delivered items if they do need to be moved by employees. 

  • Reorganise the Activity or Environment (Engineering Controls)

This next stage of the manual handling hierarchy of control can be done by reorganising the workplace to ensure that the layouts require little to no manual handling as everything is already in place and can remain where it is. You may alter where deliveries are unloaded, change the spaces where certain products are stored, or just remove any clutter or infrequently used machinery from space so that the floor is as clear as possible and trip hazards are minimised.

A cluttered or poorly maintained workspace can be host to many risks alongside manual handling hazards, including slips and trips or chemical threats from improper cleaning. Ensuring that space is organised and cleaned thoroughly means that risks on all fronts are minimised and the need for manual handling is far less.

  • Utilise Mechanical Lifting Aids or Equipment (Engineering Controls)

Depending on the type of manual handling required, you may be able to use lifting equipment to move items and loads and replace the demand for staff to undertake manual handling. 

When working in areas such as manufacturing or warehouses, the need for forklifts, stair climbers and pallet trucks is high. These help aid manual handling and provide an easy solution for lifting and moving heavy loads that cannot be safely carried by individuals. There will however be other risk assessments needed when using this type of equipment, as training and PPE are required to operate these machines safely. 

Non-powered trucks and trolleys that are pushed by employees are other great options. These are a lower risk as they aren’t mechanical and require less training, although some training will still be essential to reduce the potential of injury. 

Items such as hoists can be useful when working in the healthcare industry when manual handling of people is required. Hoists are a brilliant example of how lifting aids can be used to move patients from beds to chairs, for example, reducing the risk of injury from employees having to lift on their own and reducing the risk of patient injury as there is far less chance of them falling when using a hoist.

  • Ensure Appropriate Rest Breaks and Proper Training (Administrative Controls)

Knowing how employees work and how to best meet their needs is essential for creating a safe working environment. 

In cases where manual handling cannot be avoided, training and instruction should be available for staff to ensure that lifting and moving tasks are carried out safely. This is especially important when manual handling is a consistent part of their job role and is a legal requirement for employers to provide their staff with.

One of the risks associated with manual handling and lifting heavy loads is fatigue. When employees are partaking in physical activity, it may cause them to become tired. Regular breaks for staff can help ensure that they remain well-rested so that they can carry out manual handling whilst minimising risks and injury.

  • Provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) 

Lifting heavy loads in tight clothing can become restrictive which can then result in injury. Wearing slippery footwear may also lead to an accident as there is more chance of the individual falling.

PPE for manual handling that may be useful to consider involves hand and foot protection to ensure that the employee has a good grip on items and has steady footing whilst carrying loads.

Other Considerations

As well as following the hierarchy of control when it comes to reducing risk, there are other health and safety factors to consider when undertaking manual handling.

  • Plan

Before lifting or moving heavy items, it is important to first think about how you are going to go about doing this. Where are you moving this item to? Are you going to need help moving it?

Planning your route and technique before beginning a manual handling task means that you’re much more likely to carry it out safely and won’t get caught off guard by any distractions or disruptions as you’re completing the task.

  • Carry close to your waist

If you’re having to manually handle an item, one of the most important pieces of health and safety advice is to carry the load close to your waist. Keeping the heavier side of the load close to your body will help support it and make it easier to carry, as well as protect your arms and shoulders from unnecessary strain.

  • Establish a solid grip

Before you lift anything, ensure that you have a good hold on the load so that it doesn’t slip from your grip whilst you’re moving it. Make sure that the item is as close as possible to your body and that your grip is firm by testing the friction between your hands and the item before you properly lift it.

  • Avoid twisting and leaning

Twisting or leaning to one side whilst lifting a load can result in injury, either from overbalancing you and causing a fall or by straining your muscles because of uneven weight distribution. Ensuring that your shoulders are level and facing in the same direction as your hips whilst lifting will help prevent this.

  • Keep your head up

If you look down or elsewhere when carrying a load, you run the risk of tripping or stumbling into other hazards. Keeping your head up and looking forward will help avoid any other accidents, and is important in ensuring that you place the load down in the correct place and avoid having to move it again.

  • Know your limits

When undertaking manual handling it is important to know how much you can lift to avoid lifting anything too heavy. There are guidelines in place that advise on the appropriate manual handling weight limits, which you can read more about here.


What are the 5 hierarchies of control?

The 5 hierarchies of control consist of; elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). 

What are the 5 steps of manual handling?

There are 5 main things to consider within manual handling. These are; lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying.

What must you take into consideration when manual handling? 

The manual handling legislation requires employers to ensure that employees; avoid the need for hazardous manual handling where possible, assess the risks of potential injury and reduce the risks that may come with manual handling. 


The hierarchy of control framework is designed to be used in a linear format, meaning that it should be followed from top to bottom and that all procedures should be carried out completely before moving on to the next step for it to be effective. By following this framework you can feel confident that you have done everything you can to reduce risk during manual handling tasks, especially when the hierarchy of control is used in conjunction with a risk assessment.

If you are looking for any more information regarding manual handling safety and guidelines, our Manual Handling in the Workplace course contains everything you need to know to be fully equipped in this area.