Manual Handling: Risk, Regulation & Good manual handling techniques

What is manual handling?

Manual handling refers to an activity which requires the use of force by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, hold, restrains, fill, empty, or carry loads; The load can be animate (a person or animal) or inanimate (an object).

Manual handling hazards

Any job that involves heavy labour or manual material handling may include a high risk for injury on the job. Manual material handling contributes to a large percentage of a 1.1 million cases of musculoskeletal disorders reported annually in the United States. Musculoskeletal disorders often involve strains and sprains to the lower back, shoulders, and upper limbs. Potentially injurious tasks may involve bending and twisting, repetitive motions, carrying or lifting heavy loads, and maintaining fixed positions for a long time. Manual material handling under these conditions can lead to damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.

Manual handling injuries

Manual handling activities occur in almost all industries and are a common cause of risk in many workplaces. It is the biggest cause of ‘lost time’ accidents in the UK.

Common injuries include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) – This include neck and upper limb disorders, lower limb disorders, back pain and back injuries and damage to joints or other tissues in the body
  • Sprains – The painful twisting of the ligaments of a joint
  • Strains or “pulled muscles” – Injury to the muscle where the muscle fibres tear
  • Prolapsed discs – A rupture of the cartilage of a spinal disc
  • Hernia – A rupture in the lower abdomen caused by excessive strain on the muscles
  • Crushed limbs – Caused by loads falling and trapping limbs
  • Cuts and abrasions – Caused by rough, sharp edges on objects.
  • Slips, falls and crush incidents
  • Cuts, bruises and broken bones
  • Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS)

Some of the injuries listed are superficial but the major injuries that result from poor manual handling techniques are not only costly but can cause lifelong pain and disfigurement.

Manual handling injuries can have serious implications for the employer and the person who has been injured. They can occur almost anywhere in the workplace and heavy manual labour, awkward postures, repetitive movements of arms, legs and back or previous/existing injury can increase the risk.

Read Also: Manual handling injuries

Manual handling regulations

Manual handling regulations have been well-established for many years, yet many workplaces are still failing to effectively implement the correct manual handling techniques. Failure to ensure the health and safety of employees when working with large or heavy loads can lead to serious injury and may come at a great cost to your business.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) legislation was first introduced in 1992 as part of a series of EC Directives which were adopted into UK legislation and updated in 2002.

The regulations state that an employer must:

  • Avoid the need for hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Assess the risk of injury from any manual handling task that cannot be avoided.
  • Reduce the risk of injury from manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • It is essential that an employer conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and try to reduce any risks associated with manual handling.
  • Employees should participate in the risk assessment process, attend any relevant manual handling training and implement good manual handling techniques whenever they are carrying out such tasks.
  • Employers (and employees) who do not effectively implement these requirements could be subject to a number of actions from the regulatory authorities, dependent upon the nature of the omission(s).

Read Also: How to avoid manual lifting injuries in the workplace

It is important to mention here that njury and ill-health resulting from manual handling activities incur significant costs to society as a whole. It is estimated that 21% of all non-fatal workplace injuries are attributable to manual handling injuries and that one-third (some 156,000) of musculoskeletal disorder injuries are also caused through manual handling activities.

 Read Also: Manual handling training – Content & Where to enroll

Good handling technique for lifting

There are some simple things to do before and during the lift/carry:

  • Remove obstructions from the route.
  • For a long lift, plan to rest the load midway on a table or bench to change grip.
  • Keep the load close to the waist. The load should be kept close to the body for as long as possible while lifting.
  • Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body.
  • Adopt a stable position and make sure your feet are apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance
  • Think before lifting/handling (Lift it twice concept): Plan the lift. Ask yourself the following questions while planning the lift – Can handling aids be used? Where is the load going to be placed? Will help be needed with the load? Remove obstructions such as discarded wrapping materials.
  • Get a good hold. Where possible, the load should be hugged as close as possible to the body. This may be better than gripping it tightly with hands only.
  • Start in a good posture: At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (squatting).
  • Don’t flex the back any further while lifting: This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.
  • Keep the load close to the waist. If a close approach to the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before attempting to lift it.
  • Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent.
  • Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips.
  • Turning by moving the feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.
  • Keep the head up when handling. Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.
  • Move smoothly. The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.
  • Don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed. There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If in doubt, seek advice or get help.
  • Put down, then adjust. If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.

Techniques and posture for manual lifting

To ensure that no injury occurs when moving a load, it is important that the correct technique is used.

  • To safely lift a load: Place feet hip-width apart with one foot slightly in front of each other
  • Moderate flexion of the back, hips and knees
  • Grasp the load firmly
  • Use the leg muscles to lift the load into a standing position.

Whilst holding the load it is important to remember to:

  • Keep the back straight, avoiding twisting or bending
  • Carry loads with straight arms
  • Keep the head up and face straight ahead when handling a load
  • Keep the load hugged in close to the body while moving.


By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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