Manual handling is defined as the moving of loads and items by lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying, and it is carried out in a huge range of workplaces and work settings – from warehouses to offices; transport to health and social care.
Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work and can result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This is a collective term for injuries, damage, pain and disorders to the muscles, joints and other soft tissues of parts of the body like the back, shoulders, legs and arms.
UK employers have a legal duty to assess and then eliminate or control the risk of manual handling injuries.
This British Safety Council guide, which is based on HSE advice, provides some basic guidance on reducing the risk of manual handling injuries and MSDs at work.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their employees and workers, as far as is reasonably practicable. This includes taking appropriate steps to protect workers from risk of suffering MSDs that are caused or aggravated by their work, including from manual handling and other tasks.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must assess all risks to the health and safety of their workers – again, including the risk of workers developing MSDs that are caused or aggravated by their work.
If the general risk assessment identifies a risk of injury from the hazardous manual handling of loads, the employers must then take appropriate steps to comply with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.
The Manual Handling Regulations require employers to avoid the need for employees to carry out manual handling tasks that pose a risk of injury, so far as is reasonably practicable. However, if this is not reasonably practicable, employers must assess the risk of injury or ill health from any hazardous manual handling tasks that remain and take appropriate steps to reduce the risk to as low as is reasonably practicable.
In short, this means if manual handling poses a risk of injury, employers must look at the risks from the tasks and put sensible measures in place to prevent and avoid injury.
Employers should also consider implementing other control measures, such as making loads smaller, lighter and easier to lift, and modifying workstations to reduce the distance that loads need to be moved, carried or pushed. They must also provide employees with suitable information, instruction and training on issues such as the risk of injury from manual handling tasks and the appropriate manual handling techniques to follow.
It is also stressed that the Manual Handling Regulations do not set maximum legal weight limits that workers can be expected to lift. Instead, employers must carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of hazardous manual handling tasks and then attempt to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury, to as low as is reasonably practicable.
Also set out is guidance on assessing the risk, reducing the risks, and training. Information is also given on musculoskeletal disorders and managing cases of MSDs.
The guide is available for STN Subscribers in full here.
British Safety Council May 2021