All workplaces have manual handling risks and employers are legally obliged to protect their employees and carry out assessments to manage those risks.
Manual handling, the term used to describe lifting, lowering, pushing, supporting, pulling, carrying or moving an item or load by hand or bodily force, is one of the most common causes of injury in the workplace. In 2019/20, 19% of the 65,427 non-fatal injuries reported by employers were due to handling, lifting or carrying and are often categorised under musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Such MSDs can have serious consequences with back, neck and spine problems resulting from poor manual handling or postures leading to injuries that leave the person temporarily incapacitated or completely unable to do their normal job.
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Employer responsibilities for manual handling risk assessments
Employers have a general duty of care when it comes to the health and safety of their workforce. Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 you need to carry out risk assessments for tasks that involve manual handling. You can carry out the risk assessment yourself or assign a ‘competent person’ to do it.
Anyone involved in the handling and moving of goods, people and animals are at risk of injury, and even handling light loads poses a risk if repetitive. Therefore, it is crucial that employers comply with their legal obligations. Employers face large fines or even imprisonment for breaching health and safety legislation. In addition, the costs associated with lost time and absence due to MSDs and ill-health can be significant.
Manual handling risk assessments explained
A manual handling risk assessment is carried out to identify hazardous manual handling tasks and come up with measures to eliminate manual handling or put in place controls to prevent injuries. The assessment must consider the task being carried out, the people who are doing it, the type of load being handled and the environment the task is taking place in. Steps must then be taken to reduce the risks identified.
If an organisation employs five or more people, the results of the risk assessment must be recorded or if it is difficult explain or recall then the assessment and findings should also be written down and used for reference or training.
As for when a manual handling risk assessment should be performed, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it should be carried out “every time there are new machines, substances and procedures, which could lead to new hazards”. Assessments should also be reviewed periodically and in particular if there is evidence from inspections or accident reports.
Manual handling injuries can happen in any workplace, but organisations in sectors such as healthcare, construction and manufacturing and logistics are seen as high risk and may require more frequent risk assessments and compliance inspections and refresher training.
How to carry out a manual handling risk assessment
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require that in the first instance, employers should avoid hazardous manual handling operations wherever possible. Decide whether a load needs to be moved manually or can be dealt with using automated equipment or handling aids.
Where a manual handling task can’t be avoided, a further risk assessment is required to identify the risk of injuries and appropriate measures to control them.
The HSE recommends using a checklist and diagrams to help you examine all possible risks, with examples of assessment checklists available to download. The HSE also provides manual handling assessment charts (the MAC tool) for identifying high-risk workplace manual handling activities.
The risk factors that you should consider in a manual handling risk assessment can be categorised as task, individual, load and environment, known by the acronym TILE.
Consider the manual handling task itself and the health and safety hazards involved. Look at areas such as whether it involves repetitive actions, deep bending or twisting, sudden movements, uneven weight distribution, carrying long distances or high speed. You should also consider whether there are likely to be obstacles in the way that workers might collide with.
Consider the personal characteristics and physical capabilities of the individual or individuals carrying out the activity. You should look at whether the person is fit and able to carry out the task and think about the impact of factors such as the height of the person and whether they are capable of manual handling alone. You should also consider the risks for those with known injuries and disabilities, new or expectant mothers, younger and older people, contractors and homeworkers and employees who do not have English as their first language. Those particular cases might require separate risk assessments. Understanding any existing or new procedures may require that employees are trained or receive refresher training.
Consider the object, person or animal that is being moved and the type of hazards involved. Areas to think about include if the load is heavy to lift or carry, is difficult to grasp, is hot or cold and if the contents are bulky and could move or shift while being carried.
Consider the area in which the load is being handled. Questions to think about include: Is there enough space? Are there any trip hazards? Are floor surfaces clean and dry or is there a risk of slipping? What is the temperature of the area? Is there sufficient lightning and ventilation? Is there a steep slope involved?
Read our in-depth guide to TILE manual handling – what do TILE and LITE stand for?
The risk assessment also needs to consider the equipment being used for manual handling tasks and whether it is fit for purpose and the training required. Psychological factors and work procedures are important too such as the impact of high workload demands, tight deadlines and communication between managers and their employees.
Employees and their representatives should be consulted as part of a risk assessment to help identify hazards and develop solutions for preventing MSDs and other injuries.
What to do after a manual handling risk assessment
Once the assessment has been completed, you should take steps to reduce the identified risks. Measures could include:
- Use mechanical equipment to move the load.
- Improve flooring, lighting and ventilation.
- Remove any obstacles.
- Make loads lighter or smaller.
- Make loads more stable by, for example, adding handles.
- Adapt workplace procedures to reduce carrying distances and the need for twisting and bending.
- Reduce the need for items to be lifted from floor level or above shoulder height.
- Provide workers with more frequent breaks.
Employers are also legally obliged to provide employees with manual handling awareness training when risks of injury are present.
Manual handling training
Health and safety training is a legal requirement and risk assessments will typically highlight a need for training for employees who have to lift, lower, carry, push or pull loads or use equipment in the workplace.
Training in manual handling is important in ensuring that employees know how to safely use equipment and systems of work, carry out tasks and prevent MSD and associated injuries that can be costly both to the worker themselves and the organisation in terms of absence, lost time and loss of productivity.
When selecting a manual handling awareness training course, look for one that’s delivered by experienced health and safety professionals and is approved by organisations such as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Public Health (IOSH).
Are your employees required to push, pull, lift, lower and carry heavy loads? Our IOSH Approved Manual Handling online training course is specially built by our Chartered Practitioners and experienced fire, health, safety and environmental experts.