Last updated: 21.06.23

Manual Handling Risks and Procedures

Manual Handling Risks and Procedures

‘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 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.

Last year, 28% of all workplace accidents occurred as a result of someone lifting something incorrectly or dangerously handling heavy objects. This means that almost 100,000 people were injured because they weren’t properly trained in safe manual handling techniques, potentially sustaining very serious injuries.

Research shows that manual handling injuries normally lead to about 17 days of time off work. In most cases, the employer will bear the burden for this lost time and the subsequent cost of hiring temporary staff needed to ensure the smooth running of the business.

Preventing manual handling injuries should be a priority for employers, not only to avoid the monetary consequences of accidents, but also to comply with health and safety legislation and avoid serious harm to employees. In this article, we highlight the risks of manual handling and explore the key safe operating procedures for manual handling to explain how employees can be kept safe.

What is Manual Handling?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 define manual handling as:

"...any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force".

This definition covers a large number of activities which will be encountered in some capacity in practically all workplaces, meaning every workplace should be aware of proper manual handling as a precaution.

Why is Safe Manual Handling Important?

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. Manual handling injuries cost UK businesses a huge amount of lost time, not to mention the potential long-term effects that injuries can have on an individual’s working life.

Good manual handling is important because the vast majority of these injuries could be easily avoided by carrying out the task safely. When manual handling tasks happen safely in a workplace, it ensures that this workplace remains a safe environment for all employees and any other people that happen to be in the area.

The Law on Manual Handling

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) is the main piece of legislation that businesses need to be aware of when it comes to official manual handling guidance and safe manual lifting and handling procedures. But be aware that other laws about health and safety may also come into play, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 specify that it is the business owner’s responsibility to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place and mandate that you do everything you can to reduce the risk of manual handling accidents. Therefore, injuries related to lifting or carrying heavy loads can also open your business up to potential lawsuits and fines, which can be exorbitant.

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, and they must also provide any equipment or assistance that might be needed.

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.

Looking for a breakdown of the current manual handling legislation? Take a look at our guide here!

What are the Risks of Manual Handling?

The main risks posed by manual handling activities at work are injuries to yourself or injuries to the people around you. Not only can using incorrect techniques to handle loads increase the risk of hurting yourself, but it could also lead to accidents that harm other employees in the workplace.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, as amended in 2002, sets out specific points to make it clear how to understand and deal with risk. The Regulations also set out the basic three steps which are designed to reduce risk as much as possible:

  • Avoid - If the manual handling task can be avoided entirely, then this would be preferable. If it’s not necessary to perform manual handling, especially if there is an element of risk involved, then it should be delayed until you’re able to ensure it can be performed safely. 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. Assess what potential there is for risk and potential injuries when performing manual handling when carried out correctly. Think about the practicality of the task, whether anything could go wrong while it is being carried out, and whether there are any available means which could make the task easier.
  • Reduce - Wherever possible, the risk of injury should be reduced through practical means when carrying out manual handling, whether this means using special equipment, getting help, or using the correct lifting technique. Using the proper technique to lift and carry items is one of the most straightforward ways to do this. Being aware of the risks at all times and minimising areas where issues might arise is another priority.

Manual Handling Risk Assessment

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 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.

The necessary steps in a manual handling risk assessment are:

  • Identify potential manual handling hazards and risks
  • Identify who is at risk of harm
  • Evaluate the likelihood of each risk
  • Implement preventative measures or remove the hazards
  • Record your findings and keep the risk assessment updated

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.

What Are the Procedures and Limits for Manual Handling?

The best way to prevent manual handling accidents is to teach your workforce safe manual handling techniques. These techniques have been developed by medical professionals, and seek to minimise the risk of harm by:

  • Taking the load off the weakest parts of the body
  • Helping people to manage objects in a way that doesn't strain their joints and muscles
  • Ensuring that people can see where they’re going while they’re carrying a heavy load

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. 

Here are some of the main things to consider when you’re lifting, or when you’re putting an official manual handling procedure together.

Consider the Task

As a general rule, where a manual handling task involves lifting something between knee and shoulder height, it is considered 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.

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?

Consider the Individual

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 especially the case for pregnant women and those with pre-existing conditions.

You should also consider the recommended manual handling weight limits, which vary depending on the individual. You can read a full guide to these weight limits in this article.

Consider the Environment

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.

Consider the Object

The load must always be assessed before attempting to move it, whether you’re lifting, pushing or pulling. The first reason for this is 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 it’s 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.

Safe Manual Handling Techniques

According to the NHS, the best way to approach lifting, and handling heavy loads is to:

  • Lift from a stable position, with your hips square to the object and your back straight.
  • Keep heavy loads close to your chest, so that your centre of gravity is low.
  • Ensure that you have a firm grip on the object before moving.
  • Keep your back straight while moving, and move in a straight line.
  • Look straight ahead while moving, to avoid bumping into obstacles.
  • Place loads down slowly, and rearrange once the weight is off your body.

Here are some more pieces of advice to consider regarding the correct procedures for manual handling:

  • Ensure that you’ve done everything you can to reduce risk.
  • Stand with your legs slightly apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other beside the object you’re about to pick up. This will help ensure you keep your balance.
  • Move to get hold of the object, bearing in mind that the closer it is to your body and the more contact you have with it, the easier the task will be.
  • Keep whatever you are holding as close to your body as possible as you carry it.
  • Avoid twisting the body as you walk - it is far safer to move using your feet than your waist.
  • While walking, make sure that your head stays straight forward - this will reduce strain on your neck, as well as ensure you don’t trip.
  • When putting something heavy down, move it into place after you’ve done so, rather than trying to handle it into place.

If tasks are performed regularly, then documented manual handling procedures are very useful indeed, and are mandated by law within some industries and applications. Detailing the specifics of the manual handling operation is crucial, covering the aspects of how you assessed and reduced any elements of risk. Considering and logging these details is an extremely helpful way of preventing injury and also sets a standard should there be a legal dispute.

Manual Handling Training

We’ve already mentioned the importance of good policy and procedure for manual handling, and part of this is 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. 

Good manual handling training teaches staff how to think about lifting heavy loads before they engage in strenuous activity; equipping your employees with the knowledge they need to recognize potentially dangerous loads, and teaching them to avoid manual handling lifting procedures if there’s any risk of harm.

Often, manual handling training is the responsibility of the designated health and safety officer, and in many businesses is contracted out. Online health and safety training courses, like the ones offered by Virtual College, are a great option for businesses that want employees to know how to go about manual handling safely but want to give their staff the option to complete training in their own time.

Providing your staff with this sort of in-depth training may seem like a lot of work, but it is the best way to ensure that your business complies with the standards set by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, and the best possible way to reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace.


What is the hierarchy of measures in manual handling?

The hierarchy of control measures in manual handling includes elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE. By managing risks by following this hierarchy of measures, you can reduce the likelihood of risk in manual handling as much as possible.

What approximate percentage of workplace injuries is attributed to the manual handling of loads?

18% of injuries reported under RIDDOR in the last year were said to be attributed to handling, lifting or carrying loads. This means that almost one-fifth of workplace injuries are caused by incorrect manual handling techniques.

What is the most vulnerable part of the body when manual handling?

The back is the most vulnerable part of the body when manual handling. This is because it’s the weakest point when you’re moving and lifting heavy loads, so incorrect posture can cause long-lasting issues.


Almost every sort of job will, at some point, involve a task that has an element of manual handling, whether that’s moving items around a warehouse or lifting boxes of paper in an office. For some people this might be a day-to-day occurrence, for others it might be something out of the blue. Regardless, it’s important to know how to correctly go about manual handling to avoid unnecessary injuries.

If you’re searching for accessible training that covers safe manual handling techniques, our online Manual Handling in the Workplace course provides excellent information about basic manual handling procedures and the risks associated with manual handling.