Last updated: 11.07.23

What is manual handling in care?

What is Manual Handling in Care?

When most people think of manual handling, they will think of picking up heavy boxes or equipment – the kind you might find in an office or warehouse. However, manual handling covers quite a lot more than that, and one of the industries in which it is most important is the care industry. 

Employees in the care industry include caregivers in retirement homes, nursery staff, and even healthcare workers in hospitals. The biggest difference between your typical manual handling best practices and those involved in a care setting is that you may well be moving people as well as objects. If you’re moving people, then you must consider their safety as well as your own. 

In this article, we explain what manual handling is in care, the correct procedures to follow, potential manual handling risks in aged care, and what you need to know to comply with official guidance and regulations.

What Is the Legislation Associated With Manual Handling?

Moving and handling is an important health and safety consideration, which is why it comes under the UK’s Health and Safety Executive: the government department responsible for issuing rules and guidelines surrounding workplace safety. Any kind of moving and lifting is regulated by the HSE, including everything from moving heavy baskets of laundry to helping residents move into the shower or out of bed. 

There are five suggested pieces of legislation that the HSE recommends should be read if you’re unsure about the legal specifics of moving and handling. These are:

The 5 Key Principles of Manual Handling in Care

There are five key principles of manual handling that should be learned and remembered by anyone who is responsible for moving and handling tasks, no matter their industry. These principles are important in manual handling for health care workers and should be used to guide your actions when completing a task.


The first principle of manual handling involves making a plan before you start moving the object. This means deciding how you’re going to lift and move the load, checking your route and clearing the route of any hazards. If you decide you need assistance from a person or equipment, you need to prepare this as well.


The next principle of manual handling refers to the way you position yourself before lifting and moving the load. Make sure that your feet and body are positioned correctly, with your feet apart, back straight but not stiff, head upright and arms close to the body.


Picking up the load is the next focus for the principles of manual handling. This means ensuring that you pick and lift the load up carefully, using your legs instead of your back, and keeping your balance so that you can move smoothly.


The penultimate principle of manual handling is proceed, which is how you move the load or person to their next destination. This involves keeping the load you’re carrying close to your body, keeping your spine straight, avoiding twisting or bending and keeping your head up so that you can see where you’re going.


Finally, placing the load down is the last principle for moving and handling. This requires good posture, especially if you’re bending down, and should also be done smoothly so that you don’t jolt or bruise the person that you’re moving. 

The Correct Procedure for Manual Handling

In a care environment, employees may need to help people who have little or no ability to move on their own. This can range from giving support while working to using hoists to move patients in and out of bathing areas. Without the correct technique, falls can occur and people can be otherwise hurt.

The specifics of how you should approach manual handling in care homes and hospitals should be detailed in any specific training that you take on the subject. However, there are a broad number of steps involved in any good manual handling policy. Understanding these will help anyone approach the moving and handling of patients in an effective manner.

Assess the Risks

The first step in approaching any manual handling task, whether in care or otherwise, is to establish what the risks might be. This involves first considering whether a manual handling task needs to be carried out in the first place.

Ask yourself whether the person in question actually needs to be moved and whether it’s worth the potential risks. Might there also be a lack of respect for their dignity?

By moving a person, is there a risk that you might hurt yourself, or that the person could be hurt? Are you physically able to move the person and have access to the right equipment or other people that you need?

Make sure to consider all of the risks involved in moving and handling in care, including the weight and health of the person, the environment, your abilities and the available support.

Mitigating Risk

Once the risks of manual handling in health and social care are understood, they should be avoided if at all possible. When risks cannot be avoided, they need to be mitigated to keep everyone involved as safe as possible.

Many different things can be done to move heavy objects and people more safely. Proper technique is hugely important, which means lifting or moving in the right way, with the right muscles. Make sure that you’re physically able to lift or move the person so that you know you can use the right technique and won’t struggle or strain.

Having a second person helping you is often very important too. This reduces the weight that each individual has to bear and provides a second opinion on potential risks and hazards.

Finally, the right equipment must be used in order to mitigate the risks of manual handling in care. For example, many care homes will have lifting hoists and other equipment that makes moving people much easier, safer, and more dignified.

Manual Handling Techniques

When it comes to the actual moving and handling of a load in care, the advice for techniques is the same whether you’re moving a person or an object. However, you’ll need to be more considerate of your grip when you’re moving a person and be ready to stop or wait if they request it.

Official advice from HSE on the procedure for manual handling advises you to always lift from your legs, keep loads close to your body, keep your feet stable, avoid twisting or arching your back, keep your head up and move smoothly. Make sure you’ve plotted your route before you move someone and ensure that this route is clear so you don’t have to stop or navigate something in your way.

Reviewing the Procedure

Lastly, and more important for those responsible for manual handling policies, is reviewing the manual handling techniques. Do the current processes allow jobs to be carried out safely? Have there been any accidents or injuries during manual handling tasks?

It’s important to keep reviewing the official procedures you have in place for manual handling in care so that health and safety standards are kept high and everyone is kept safe. This involves reviewing procedures, reacting to any accidents and ensuring that training is given and refreshed so that everyone knows the right procedures for moving and handling tasks.

If you’re looking for manual handling in care training, we offer an online ‘Assisting and Moving People and Objects in Social Care’ course that is designed for these kinds of tasks.

What are the Risks of Manual Handling in Care?

Manual handling is a subject of workplace policy because it’s still a major problem in UK workplaces. Many people still see the warnings and suggested procedures for manual handling as unnecessary bureaucracy, but it’s incredibly important because there are a number of risks involved.

The first is the risk of injury to the manual handler. Moving a person means moving a heavy object, and it’s not difficult to hurt oneself through over-exertion. This can result in significant discomfort for several days, but it can also result in long-term health problems. 

Repetitive incorrect manual handling can damage muscles and ligaments, which can mean extended time off work, and even forced early retirement. If you don’t follow the proper procedure for manual handling, you risk suffering long-term physical damage.

As well as damage to yourself, poor manual handling technique could also damage the person that you are moving or carrying. If you handle the patient incorrectly, use equipment incorrectly or even end up dropping the person you’re moving, this could cause serious harm.

The risks of hurting the person you’re helping to move or carry are greater when you’re working in a care environment as patients are usually more fragile and therefore likely to take longer to recover from injury. Improper manual handling in health and social care must be done correctly or you risk harming the people you’re responsible for taking care of, which goes against the purpose of your role.

In manual handling tasks in care environments that do not require the moving of a person, there is still the risk of dropping or otherwise damaging what you’re carrying. This could injure you or any people that are around you at the time, as well as potentially cause damage to something expensive or important that can’t be easily replaced.


What is the percentage of manual handling injuries in health and social care?

According to data from HSE, the health and social care industry sees the third-highest number of musculoskeletal injuries in the UK. Within these injuries, manual handling was reported to be one of the main contributors to these injuries. 

There are no official statistics about the percentage of injuries caused by manual handling in health and social care, but we do know that this industry is one of the worst affected, and that handling, lifting and carrying caused 18% of all workplace injuries

What is the impact of poor manual handling practice?

Poor manual handling practice impacts the people that do the moving and handling and any people that are moved by others. It can cause musculoskeletal problems if manual handling tasks are done incorrectly and can injure the people that are being moved and carried, which harms both their health and their dignity.

How does manual handling apply to people in care?

Manual handling applies to people in care because sometimes, patients may not be able to move around by themselves. This requires manual handling to help them with things such as getting out of bed, getting into the shower or moving from one room to another, all of which require proper lifting, moving and handling techniques to do safely.


If you work in health and social care then it is likely that you will carry out manual handling tasks moving both people and objects. It’s always important to use the correct technique when you’re moving a load, but especially when it’s another person that might be old, frail or unable to move themselves, as accidents caused by incorrect procedures can have a much more serious impact on these individuals.

Training is essential for safe moving and handling, which is why most care organisations will have mandatory certifications. We offer an online ‘Statutory & Mandatory Training: Moving & Handling’ course specifically covering the most important points of moving and handling both objects and people, or a general ‘Manual Handling in the Workplace’ course that is more focused on objects.