Manual handling is the cause of one in three accidents at work. If risks aren’t managed and controlled, the consequences of poor manual handling can severely impact the physical and mental health of employees, contractors and others.
With 18% of non-fatal injuries to employees in 2020/21 caused by handling, lifting or carrying tasks, it’s essential to know the potential dangers and risks of poor manual handling. The most common cause of non-fatal injuries to employees are slips, trips and falls on the same level. These injuries are more common if employees are engaged in manual handling tasks.
What is manual handling?
Manual handling covers a variety of activities, not just lifting. These tasks involve using physical force and limbs such as hands, and include:
While many activities can be automated using lifting equipment and machinery, some still involve manual exertion by an employee. Manual handling can also include employees manually intervening with machinery or equipment, such as stacking boxes onto a conveyor belt.
Common manual handling injuries
The consequences of poor manual handling include injuries and illness, short-term and long-term conditions.
Superficial injuries are considered to be short-term injuries caused by minor accidents.
These injuries can involve:
- Sprains and strains.
They can be caused by sudden, unexpected movements such as losing grip or focus or holding objects at awkward, uncomfortable angles. Superficial injuries comprise 21% of workplace injuries, with sprains and strains making up 28%.
Musculoskeletal disorders can be long-term conditions affecting the body’s muscles, bones, joints, tendons, nerves and ligaments. These conditions typically occur over long periods, with slow wear and tear and repetitive injuries caused by excessive handling or strenuous activities.
The HSE reported that 470,000 employees had work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2020/21− with 45% of the disorders affecting the upper limbs or neck.
According to the NHS, a hernia occurs when an internal body part pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall. Hernias can happen when straining while lifting heavy loads. This type of injury is increasingly risky for older employees.
Hernias can cause pain and discomfort unless surgically treated.
Hand and foot injuries
Hand and foot injuries can result from poor manual handling. Whether carrying, lifting, pushing or pulling, the hands are often the primary point of contact with heavy loads. If not careful, dropping a load on your feet or fingers/hands can result in breaks, crushing, compression injuries, amputation, fractures and bruising.
Employees can lose grip and injure feet and hands if the load is an awkward shape to hold, too hot or too cold, or slippery. Employees could also cut themselves without care if the load has sharp edges or corners.
Manual handling often places stress on the back. Injury to the back is more likely and can become a long-term ailment without the correct lifting techniques and posture.
Injuries from incorrect handling techniques include slipped discs, lumbar strain and spinal injuries. If back pain goes untreated, it may result in chronic conditions which may impact the ability to work.
Employees should follow our TILE manual handling advice when lifting is involved to help minimise the risk of injuries and accidents.
Mental health issues
A potential consequence of poor manual handling may be mental health issues. While not directly a result of manual handling, the risk of injury and accident can negatively impact employee mental health.
Long-term physical injury can contribute to a mental illness such as:
Long-term conditions may become difficult to manage for the employee, affecting their mental health. The pain, symptoms and possible inability to perform specific tasks may result in stress, depression and anxiety.
Although physical injuries and ailments are more common and widely recognised, their effect on mental well-being shouldn’t be ignored. Depression can be four times more likely in people experiencing constant pain.
The symptoms experienced with poor mental health, such as disturbed sleep, lack of motivation and low energy, can impact employees’ ability to complete their roles and tasks.
How to avoid poor manual handling consequences
As an employer, you must ensure employees, contractors, and others are safe at work, as outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. You can do several things to help prevent the consequences of poor manual handling:
- Provide training: Our Manual Handling training course aims to educate all levels within an organisation on the correct techniques for manual handling. It helps establish a safe working environment, with employees identifying the risks and hazards of manual handling.
- Complete risk assessments: Risk assessments should be conducted to assess the manual handling hazards and take the appropriate actions to reduce these risks. Assessments also consider which safety precautions, such as PPE should be provided to create a safer environment.
- Compliance with regulations: Read our guide to what are the manual handling operations regulations 1992 to ensure your organisation complies with the relevant health and safety regulations. Compliance can help ensure you put the correct practices and measures in place to maintain a safe working environment.
- Provide appropriate equipment: Use machinery and equipment to help with heavy loading and strenuous tasks. Ensure employees are fully trained to use the machinery correctly and safely. You should also inspect and assess equipment regularly to maintain its safety.