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ESS Guide to Manual Handling

Posted on Friday, 8th January 2021

ESS Guide to Manual Handling

One of the biggest causes of workplace injury is poor manual handling practice. Moving objects by hand is the main cause of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. In the UK alone, 480,000 workers suffered from these disorders in 2019/20, with an estimated 8.9m working days lost in the process.

But what is manual handling and how can you make sure you are performing these tasks safely? Let’s take a look:

What is manual handling?HSE logo

The HSE defines manual handling as “transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force”. Simply put, any time you are moving an object without the help of machinery, you are conducting manual handling. This can include lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, moving, or carrying a load. Regardless of the size, shape, and weight of the object being handled, it's integral to worker safety that precautions are taken.

What are the risks of poor manual handling?

Manual handling might not seem like a high-risk area of work, but there are serious dangers that can be brought on by poor practise when carrying out these operations. Most manual handling injuries can be categorised as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs include any injuries or conditions that can cause pain in the individual’s joint, bones, or muscles. This can include chronic back pain and, in rare cases, autoimmune diseases. These injuries have the potential to seriously affect the quality of life of sufferers. Around 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from musculoskeletal conditions at some point in their life, with 30% of all GP consultations being related to MSDs.

What are the legal requirements for manual handling in the workplace?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require all employers to continually monitor the risks to worker safety in regard to manual handling. It lays out a three-step process that employers should carry out before allowing workers to carry out manual handling operations:

  • Avoid – Workers should avoid conducting manual handling operations ‘so far as reasonably practical’
  • Assess – There should be an assessment of the risk of injury when manual handling has to be undertaken by a worker
  • Reduce – Take the necessary steps to reduce the risks of injury to workers as ‘far as is reasonably practical’

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations don’t provide specific training requirements workers need to carry out manual handling, but it is advised for them to get some form of training if they carry out this type of work regularly. Providing workers with formal training will help establish a culture of safety in the workplace, reduce the chances of accidents happening on site, and save the company from the potential costs of employee injury.

What are the 4 key areas of manual handling?

When it comes to assessing the risks of manual handling operations, there are four key factors you need to consider. You can remember these as T.I.L.E:

Task – consider what the task will involve and what movements the individual will need to carry out .

Individual – consider who is undertaking the task. Do they have the necessary skills, equipment, and training for the task? Do they have any health problems which may affect their ability to perform the task safely?

Load – consider the size, shape, and centre of gravity of the object being moved.

Environment – consider the environment where the moving operation is taking place. Are there any hazards? Is there enough space? Is the surface under-foot slippery?


What are good handling techniques?

When you are performing manual handling tasks, it’s important to not put too much pressure on your back. The further you have to stretch your back, the more pressure you put on it, increasing the chances of injury.

Think of your body position like a lever. The further the distance between the small of your back and the object you are picking up, the more pressure is being concentrated on your back. This is the cause of a huge amount of manual handling injuries. You want to ensure you are bending at the knees, as opposed to keeping straight legs and reaching over with your back, to reduce the distance you’re stretching.

To help you perform these tasks, remember the process:Manual handling guidance

  • Plan
  • Position
  • Lift
  • Move
  • Lower

If you carry out these steps when moving an object, you reduce the chances of performing potentially damaging actions such as twisting or stretching.

Manual handling courses

The only way to fully understand the ins and outs of this type of work is through formal manual handling training. At ESS, we provide Manual Handling training through our team of expert trainers. 

This high-impact, 3-hour course provides learners with the theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to conduct manual handling tasks safely. Successful learners on the course will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the correct method of manual handling of objects.
  • Understand their responsibilities under relevant legislation.
  • Demonstrate the practices of manual handling and lifting as described in The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

In addition, we also deliver the NPORS Manual Handling training course. This covers the same basic manual handling principles, but provides learners with a NPORS-approved certificate on completion.

More health and safety training

To see a full list of the courses we provide, head over to our online course index. If you want to find out more about how our training can be suited to your needs, contact the ESS team directly on 0115 8970 529. You can also email us at [email protected].

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