Manual handling is one of the main considerations when it comes to ensuring health and safety standards in the workplace. Poor manual handling practice is responsible for a significant portion of injuries and can cause long-term health issues for employees, with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) amongst the most severe. This can cause lasting problems for the individual involved, such as chronic joint pain and repetitive strain injuries, as well as issues for the business. As a result, there is extensive guidance and legislation on the subject to help both employers and employees get manual handling right. In this article, we’re going to go through some of the most important pieces of legislation that are applicable to manual handling in the workplace. Some are more important than others, but each one is relevant to some aspect of workplace safety.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations are the most significant when it comes to this area of safety, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the ‘manual handling act’. This dedicated piece of legislation is designed to help employers and employees manage, control and ultimately reduce the risk of injuries that might come about from poor manual handling practice. One of the most important elements of the legislation is that, when it came into force in 1993, it placed a requirement on employers to take action in respect of manual handling and ensured that they had a responsibility to their employees.
MHOR sets out three main elements that should be followed by employers wherever possible, which are outlined as avoid, assess, and reduce. Avoid means that in any practical scenarios, manual handling should be avoided entirely. If there may be a risk to a person’s health, then the task should simply not be carried out if possible. The second point, to assess, means that any task that can’t be avoided should be thoroughly assessed for its risks. The third and final point, which forms the bulk of the MHOR, is how to reduce risk when manual handling tasks are carried out.
It’s very important to note that the MHOR does not set out specific limits for certain elements of manual handling, such as the weight that a person should carry. Instead, it gives a framework for all of the things that need to be considered when deciding how to reduce the risk of MSDs when handling objects. There are multiple factors referenced in the regulations which need to be taken into account, including:
Finally, health surveillance is another important part of these regulations, with regulation 4 stating that employers must make reasonable attempts to monitor the health of anyone involved in manual handling, to ensure that any potential MSDs are picked up early.
The HSWA is the main piece of legislation that broadly covers all relevant elements of health and safety in the workplace. It is a critically important piece of legislation that all employers must be aware of. Most people will be aware of the majority of elements contain within it without being directly familiar with the Act itself. This Act sets out the responsibilities that employers have towards their staff in regards to health and safety, as well as outlining liabilities and punishments (including criminal). While manual handling isn’t a specific part of this legislation, the principles are still applicable.
The other significant element of the HSWA is that it created two entities which are responsible for health and safety in the United Kingdom - the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. The Commission was tasked with research, facilitating good practice, and proposing new legislation, while the Executive enforced health and safety laws. In 2008, these two merged under the banner of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is now responsible for all aspects of health and safety in the UK. Those familiar with manual handling will recognise the HSE as the organisation that publishes documentation and guidelines that pertain to virtually all aspects of keeping people safe at work.
One of the more minor pieces of legislation, this one does include some requirement for employees themselves to be responsible and follow the instructions and rules laid out for them in respect of health and safety and using equipment. This means that employees must follow the manual handling processes that they have been given - they have a legal obligation to do so. In addition, regulation 3 does again reiterate that employers must assess any potential risks to their employees while they’re at work, which includes manual handling tasks.
PUWER is another piece of legislation relevant to the HSE, but this one deals specifically with workplaces in which employees are required to work with equipment. Not all equipment will require any kind of manual handling, but the vast majority of it will. For example, using power tools could mean regularly lifting and using heavy machinery. PUWER officially places various responsibilities on employers which align with a common sense approach to health and safety, including things like ensuring that the equipment is safe to use, that anyone using them has been appropriately trained, and that any necessary risk mitigation measures are taken out.
The final piece of legislation considered relevant to manual handling is the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998. While this primarily deals with equipment that is designed to lift objects or people in the workplace, and therefore no manual handling should actually be required, it’s important to be aware that improper use of lifting equipment can sometimes mean that manual handling becomes involved where it should not. For example, if disability harnesses and lifting frames are used incorrectly then strain can be placed on the person carrying out the task, which must be avoided. For this reason, it’s useful to be aware of LOLER and how lifting equipment should be correctly operated to avoid unnecessary.
The Health and Safety Executive should be the main and first point of call for questions surrounding manual handling legislation, and it publishes official documentation on the subject that can be used by employers. If you require more detailed training then your organisation may need to consider an external training company. The HSE specifically does not have set rules when it comes to training, but you should look for the most comprehensive courses available. Here at Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to bring you a range of health and safety courses including a dedicated online manual handling course that covers best practice for both objects and people.