‘Lift with your legs, not your back’ is an expression many of us will have heard many times over, both at home and in the workplace. We should all know by now that improper lifting of heavy objects can spell trouble, but still each and every year thousands of people in the UK are injured at work because they’ve not understood - or not followed - best practices for manual handling. As experts in delivering training on workplace health and safety, we at Virtual College are focused on ensuring that workers understand what the best procedure for manual handling is, and why it’s important. Let’s take a look.
First things first - why should you go through the effort of learning about manual handling and thinking through the task at hand?
The simple fact is that improper manual handling costs the country millions each year, and is perhaps a much bigger issue than you might have realised. More than 100,000 manual handling injuries are recorded, with nearly 2000 being severe. This costs UK businesses a huge amount in lost time, not to mention the potentially long term effects that injuries can have on an individual’s working life.
Good manual handling is so important because the vast majority of these injuries could be easily avoided by carrying out the task safely.
Find out more about why manual handling is important by reading our article here.
Employers must be aware that they do have a duty to their employees when it comes to manual handling. It’s not something that you can leave to the individual.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) is the main piece of legislation that businesses need to be aware of when it comes to this issue, but be aware that other laws pertaining to health and safety may also come into play, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The regulations place responsibility on the employer for the safety of employees carrying out manual handling tasks. This means that employers must provide the right training and knowledge to do the job safely, they must provide any equipment or assistance that might be needed, and they must also
There are also three main elements to MHOR that dictate how to safely approach manual handling tasks, and they are the following:
Avoid - If the manual handling task can be avoided entirely, then this would be preferable. Clearly this isn’t always the case, but injuries are far too often caused by individuals attempting tasks that simply do not need to be done.
Assess - No task should be started without first assessing it. We’ll consider in the next section some of the things that need to be considered when deciding how to approach a manual handling procedure.
Reduce - Wherever possible, the risk of injury should be reduced, whether this means using special equipment, getting help, or using the correct lifting technique. Again, we’ll cover this in more detail in the next section.
Risk assessment is one of the Health and Safety Executive’s most important steps for any type of safety issue in the workplace, for the simple reason is that it often prevents problems from occurring in the first place. Manual handling is no different.
Any business in which manual handling of heavy objects, whether boxes of files, equipment or even patients, should have a manual handling policy, and this will be informed by the risk assessment. This is not a complex procedure, and is mostly common sense. Whoever is responsible for health and safety, which may be a specifically employed individual in certain businesses and industries, should conduct this.
By conducting a risk assessment, a business will be easily able to identify where tasks can be avoided, assess how they should be carried out if essential, and also ultimately reduce injuries during the task.
Thinking about the three principles in the MHOR, if it’s decided that a task is essential, the next two considerations are the assessment of the task, and the practical implementation of any measures to make it safer. Depending on what’s being lifted or moved, there could be many different things to think about. Let’s go through some of the main things to consider when you’re lifting, or when you’re putting some procedure together.
As a general rule, where the task involves lifting something between knee and shoulder height, most tasks are safe provided good consideration has been given to the object and the individual. Things can become a little riskier when it comes to lifting things from ground level, or lifting things down from above shoulder height, so extra care should be taken. Generally, movement needs to be as smooth as possible, bending, stooping and twisting should be avoided, and weight should be taken with the legs, arms, and abdominal muscles rather than the back. If an item needs to be pushed or pulled rather than carried, then this should be done at waist level if possible, and pushing is safer than pulling.
Good manual handling policies and training will take into account the fact that individuals vary significantly in their ability to safely carry objects, and this is certainly something anyone should think about before attempting a task. If something appears to be beyond one individual’s physical ability, then it should certainly be avoided, which is the case especially for those with pre-existing conditions, and pregnant women.
The load must always be assessed before attempting to move it, whether you’re lifting, pushing or pulling. The first reason for this is of course weight. As you’re assessing whether or not, and how, to move an object, you should have a rough idea of how much it weighs and whether or not this is reasonable for the task at hand. You may need to consider moving the item in stages if very heavy, or asking someone else for help. This is very often the case in the care industry when patients need to be moved.
The other thing to think about is how you’re going to grip the object. Look for handles or gripping points, and use these if possible. Similarly, you should check to ensure that the object does not look as though it might break in the process, which could become dangerous, or that it is too awkwardly shaped to carry safely.
When it comes to handling the object, you should generally hold it as close to your body as possible. This helps ensure stability and reduces the strain on your arms, shoulders and back.
There are a few other things that should be considered. The environment in which the manual handling is taking place is quite important. It’s much harder to carry something if the floor is not clear, or if the space is dark for example, so extra care should be taken in such circumstances. Ideally, the environment should be made safe beforehand. Protective equipment might be another thing that becomes necessary as you consider a task - would it help to wear gloves or a harness? Similarly, would a step ladder help when lifting something from above?
We’ve already mentioned the importance of good policy and procedure, and part of this is of course training. It’s really important that people receive the training that they need to do their job safely. It’s no good helping on a situation-by-situation basis only - people need to be given the information that they can take with them. Often, training is the responsibility of the designated health and safety officer, and in many businesses is contracted out. Here at Virtual College, we’re very pleased to have developed a number of health and safety related courses, including one on manual handling. This e-learning course can be taken remotely by anyone, and it’ll give them the information they need to understand safe manual handling procedure. Click here to find out more.