Health and Safety 101: A guide to manual handling in the workplace

Health and Safety 101: A guide to manual handling in the workplace

How to reduce manual handling injuries and stay within the law

Here are three cases out of hundreds that highlight one of the biggest causes of workplace injury in the UK – poor manual handling policies and practices:

  1. In February 2017, an employee of DanTech Engineering Limited was injured when a 250kg metal frame crushed his fingers, and two had to be amputated because of the injury. DanTech was subsequently fined £20,000.
  2. After an 89-year-old resident died following an accident with a lifting hoist at a care home in 2013, the care home was fined £60,000.
  3. In 2016, MAHLE Powertrain was forced to pay fines and costs totalling £200,000 after several members of staff developed back problems.

In this article, you’ll learn how you can keep your employees healthier and avoid becoming the next on the list of companies fined under manual handling regulations in the UK.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling is the movement of an item by lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, or lowering. You may think that weight is the main factor when it comes to injuries suffered during manual handling, but there are many factors at play. These include:

  • Repetition – the number of times you have to pick up an item
  • Distance – how far an item must be carried
  • Bulk – the physical size of an item to be moved
  • Position – where you are picking it up from (e.g. low or high)
  • Movement – twisting, bending, stretching, awkward posture
  • Space – moving items in and out of confined spaces

Injuries that are caused by poor man handling techniques and practices are many and varied. They form part of an injury set known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and include damage, disorder, or injury to joints, ligaments, tendons and bones. Predominantly, these disorders affect the upper and lower limbs and the back.

MSDs are a serious problem for businesses in the UK, with a recent HSE report (using Labour Force Survey statistics) showing that over a third of all work-related illnesses fall into this category.

Manual handling – the employer’s responsibilities

Under the law – specifically the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 – employers are obliged to:

  • Avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable, by redesigning the task to avoid moving the load or by automating or mechanising the process.
  • Make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided.
  • Reduce the risk of injury from those operations so far as is reasonably practicable. Where possible, provide mechanical assistance; for example, a sack trolley or hoist. Where this is not reasonably practicable, then explore changes to the task, the load and the working environment.

This means that you should take action to help your employees avoid manual handling tasks as far as possible. Where avoidance is impossible (or impractical – for example, because of cost), then employers should carry out a risk assessment and put in place policies and procedures that minimise the risks posed by manual handling tasks.

Tips for responsible manual handling in the workplace

When assessing a lifting activity, an employer should account for:

  • The capability of the individual
  • The nature of the load (size, weight, shape, etc.)
  • Environmental conditions (where the load is, where it needs to be, how to get it there, and the environment it will be moving through)
  • Organisation of the manual handling process
  • Training of staff in manual handling

When moving objects, consideration should be given as to how to:

  • Reduce twisting, stooping and reaching
  • Avoid lifting from above shoulder height or from below knee height
  • Minimise carrying distances

This may mean adjusting storage spaces (for example, by raising items onto shelving rather than have them sit on the floor), and assessing whether a manual handling task requires more than one employee because of weight or other factors.

You should always consider using lifting equipment, such as a forklift truck, hoist, or pallet truck. When taking delivery of items, consider how heavy or bulky items can be delivered as close to storage areas as possible to reduce the distance they must be carried by hand.

How to develop a manual handling policy in your workplace

When developing a manual handling policy in your workplace, you should consider all needs and risks from the point of view of your employees. Of course, you must adhere to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, but a sensible course of action is to include your employees in policy development. They understand the practicalities of required tasks, and are likely to provide realistic and workable solutions.

You should also make training in manual handling a requirement of all employees who will be undertaking lifting and carrying, and emphasise requirements to:

  • Use equipment provided
  • Inform you of any hazardous manual handling activities encountered
  • Avoid putting others at risk
  • Follow workplace procedures

The possibility to eliminate all manual handling activities from a place of work is unlikely. However, by taking the approach outlined above, you should be able to reduce risks, make your workplace safer, and benefit from a healthier and more productive workforce.

To help you reap the benefits of good health and safety in the workplace, contact Sentry today and discover the online intelligent system that will help your business remain health and safety compliant with minimum effort.

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