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Safety Basics of Manual Handling for Staying Safe at Workplace

Manual handling injuries are very common in many professions. Employers lose thousands of working hours and incur a heavy loss due to workplace injuries and illnesses. Do you know that you have responsibilities as an employer or employee regarding manual handling safety at your workplace? Yes, we covered manual handling safety basics in this blog and added downloadable resources.

In this article, we’ll explore basic guidelines that will help you to ensure better workplace safety for manual handling operations. You’ll also learn how drastic the impact of musculoskeletal disorders can be for our economy and personal lives.

In this blog

Definition of manual handling

Manual handling means transporting or supporting a load either by lifting, pushing, carrying, lowering or any other means of bodily force. The ‘load’, in legal terms, can be a moveable object, a person or an animal or something like a roll cage or pallet lorry that can be pushed or pulled.

If you are moving and handling any load wrongly, you’ll run the risk of long-term and short-term injuries and illnesses. Out of all workplace injuries, work-oriented musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for over 33.3%. MSDs include limb and joint pain, back pain, repetitive strain injury.

Manual handling: Injuries and illnesses

The risks of manual handling do not derive only from the lifting and pulling of heavy loads. Injuries resulting from the repetition of a particular task, the distance a load is carried, picking a load from the floor or putting in on a shelf which is above the shoulder level, twisting, stretching, bending and other risky postures may raise health and safety concerns.
Manual handling injuries are perfectly normal under any working conditions. As a result of heavy manual labour, unacceptable postures and pre-existing injuries, the risk of MSDs increases.

From the statistics provided by the Labour Force Survey (LFS), we know how detrimental MSDs are. MSD-related illnesses cause substantial financial loss and impact production to a great extent.

Estimated prevalence and rates of self-reported illness caused or made worse by work (Long-term and new cases together), Source: The Labour Force Survey

During 2018 – 19, the total number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were approximately 498,000 out of 1,354,000 self-reported illnesses in Great Britain. Only, stress, depression or anxiety-related problems were higher than MSDs.

From 2016-17 to 2018-18, about 7,465,000 working days were lost due to MSDs at an average of 15.2 days per self-reported case of MSD.

Manual handling safety basics: Filters for moving and handling objects

In this section, we’ll talk about four types of filters:
  • Lifting and lowering objects;
  • Carrying things for up to 10 metres;
  • Pushing and pulling loads for up to 10 metres;
  • Handling stuff while seated.

Lifting and lowering risk filter

According to figure 1, each box shows a filter value for lifting and lowering in the specific zone of the body. As you can see, the filter values reduce if your arms are extended, at lower or higher levels.
During the risk assessment, you have to compare a worker’s hand movement in different zones while the loads are being moved. If the value of the load is below the value of the matching boxes in figure 1, you are operating within the guidelines.

The filter for lifting and lowering stuff is applicable provided that:

  • The lifter can grasp the load with both hands;
  • The working conditions are acceptable for the operations;
  • The handler's body position is stable.

Carrying risk filter

The same filters from figure 1 will apply to carrying operations in the following cases:
  • You hold the load against your body;
  • You carry the load no further than about 10 metres without a pause;
  • The load doesn’t prevent you from walking normally;
  • You view isn’t blocked by the load;
  • You don’t need to hold the load lower than knuckle height or higher than elbow height. It means that the load stays mostly static on your arm muscles.

The filter values are applicable up to 20 metres if the lifter can carry a load on the shoulder without lifting it to the shoulder from a lower position. For example, the lifters who unload sacks from a lorry might not need to lift the load initially.

Pushing and pulling risk filter

Figure 2: Sustainable push and pull postures

In the matters of pushing and pulling operations, you can use techniques such as sliding anything, rolling or moving any load on wheels. In figure 2, the examples show some general postures for safe manual handling while pushing or pulling. The task can be low risk if:
  • You apply the force with your hands; and
  • Your torso is mostly upright (and not twisted in any way); and
  • Your hands are between hip and shoulder level; and
  • The distance covered during the task is about 20 metres or less.
In addition, the task can be considered low risk if you can move and control any load easily using only one of your hands.
It is necessary to keep initial push or pull forces to a minimum (see table 1) to start moving an object. It also applies to stopping the object or changing directions of the load. While you move the object, you don’t need to apply comparative lower force.
Men Women

Stopping or starting a load

20 kg (about 200N)

15 kg (about 150N)

Keeping the load in motion

10 kg (about 100N)

7 kg (about 70N)

Table 1: Guideline figures for safe pushing and pulling

Handling while seated risk filter

Manual Handling while seated (filters)

Figure 3: Handling while seated (filters)

As you can see in figure 3, the filter values for handling operation in seating position are 5kg for men and 3kg for women. These values apply only when you are using two hands and your hands are within the green zone.

Training for Safe Manual Handling : From safety basics to advanced

For safe manual handling, you need proper training and access to necessary information. However, the primary objective should be designing ‘reasonably practicable’ handling operations. The training for manual handling cannot possibly overcome:
  • The scarcity of mechanical aids;
  • Inappropriate designed tasks;
  • Incompatible loads;
  • A problematic working environment.
A comprehensive manual handling training will be helpful for learning:
  • The risk factors for different aspects of manual handling, and how you are susceptible to injuries;
  • The appropriate ways of carrying out operations in a specific environment;
  • Good handling techniques that prevent injuries in manual handling;
  • The usage of mechanical aids for different purposes;
  • Practical suggestions for specific situations so that trained people can help out the inexperienced ones;
  • Suitable ways of recording and reporting symptoms and injuries.

Legal obligations: Manual handling risk assessment

As per the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all employers need to carry out risk assessments to ensure the health and safety of the employees in any workplace.

In the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, the requirement for a general risk assessment for safer manual handling operations is mentioned. The main areas of the risk assessment include the task, load, working environment and individual capability.

Compliance with the regulations: Your duties for manual handling safety basics

As an employer, you need to:

  • Refrain from hazardous manual handling operations.
  • Conduct an adequate and organized risk assessment.
  • Minimize risk to the lowest reasonable level.
  • Provide essential training to the employees.
  • Arrange suitable equipment for safer operations.
  • Dispense the relevant information on the weight and distribution of any load for safety reasons.

On the other hand, the employees have certain responsibilities too. They have to:

  • Take decent care of their health and safety along with that of clients and colleagues.
  • Follow the specified procedures designed for workplace safety.
  • Utilize any equipment as per the training and instruction provided by the authorities.
  • Report the accidents and possible hazards to the management in a systematic way.

Closing remarks

Finally, we tried to give some basic safety tips for manual handling here. Nonetheless, it’s not enough, especially in terms of detailed risk assessment, the MAC and RAPP tools. Learn more from our extensive manual handling training for compliance certification. We have relevant blogs for you too.

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