Manuel Handling Guide
How far must I reduce the risk?
To the balancing the level 'reasonably practicable'. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in terms of money, time and trouble.
Do I have to provide mechanical aids in every case?
You should definitely provide mechanical aids if it is reasonably practicable to do so and the risks identified in your risk assessment can be reduced or eliminated by this means. But you should consider mechanical aids in other situations as well - they can improve productivity as well as safety. Even something as simple as a sack truck can make a big improvement.
What about training?
Training is important but remember that, on its own, it can't overcome:
- a lack of mechanical aids;
- unsuitable loads;
- bad working conditions.
Training should cover:
- manual handling risk factors and how injuries can occur;
- how to carry out safe manual handling, including good handling technique (see 'Good handling technique for lifting' and 'Good handling technique for pushing and pulling');
- appropriate systems of work for the individual's tasks and environment;
- use of mechanical aids;
- practical work to allow the trainer to identify and put right anything the trainee is not doing safely.
Good handling technique for lifting
Here are some practical tips, suitable for use in training people in safe manual handling.
Think before lifting/handling. Plan the lift. Can handling aids be used? Where is the load going to be placed? Will help be needed with the load? Remove obstructions such as discarded wrapping materials. For a long lift, consider resting the load midway on a table or bench to change grip.
Adopt a stable position. The feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it is on the ground). The worker should be prepared to move their feet during the lift to maintain their stability. Avoid tight clothing or unsuitable footwear, which may make this difficult.
Get a good hold. Where possible, the load should be hugged as close as possible to the body. This may be better than gripping it tightly with hands only.
Start in a good posture. At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (squatting).
Don't flex the back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.
Keep the load close to the waist. Keep the load close to the body for as long as possible while lifting. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If a close approach to the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before attempting to lift it.
Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent. Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips. Turning by moving the feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.
Keep the head up when handling. Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.
Move smoothly. The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.
Don't lift or handle more than can be easily managed. There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If in doubt, seek advice or get help.
Put down, then adjust. If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.
Good handling technique for pushing and pulling
Here are some practical points to remember when loads are pushed or pulled.
Handling devices. Aids such as barrows and trolleys should have handle heights that are between the shoulder and waist. Devices should be well maintained with wheels that run smoothly. The law requires that equipment is maintained. When you buy new trolleys etc, make sure they are good quality with large diameter wheels made of suitable material and with castors, bearings etc which will last with minimum maintenance. Consulting your employees and safety representatives will help, as they know what works and what doesn't.
Force. As a rough guide the amount of force that needs to be applied to move a load over a flat, level surface using a well-maintained handling aid is at least 2% of the load weight. For example, if the load weight is 400 kg, then the force needed to move the load is 8 kg. The force needed will be larger, perhaps a lot larger, if conditions are not perfect (eg wheels not in the right position or a device that is poorly maintained). The operator should try to push rather than pull when moving a load, provided they can see over it and control steering and stopping.
Slopes. Employees should get help from another worker whenever necessary, if they have to negotiate a slope or ramp, as pushing and pulling forces can be very high. For example, if a load of 400 kg is moved up a slope of 1 in 12 (about 5°), the required force is over 30 kg even in ideal conditions - good wheels and a smooth slope. This is above the guideline weight for men and well above the guideline weight for women.
Uneven surfaces. Moving an object over soft or uneven surfaces requires higher forces. On an uneven surface, the force needed to start the load moving could increase to 10% of the load weight, although this might be offset to some extent by using larger wheels. Soft ground may be even worse.
Stance and pace. To make it easier to push or pull, employees should keep their feet well away from the load and go no faster than walking speed. This will stop them becoming too tired too quickly.
How do I know if there's a risk of injury?
It's a matter of judgement in each case, but there are certain things to look out for, such as people puffing and sweating, excessive fatigue, bad posture, cramped work areas, awkward or heavy loads or people with a history of back trouble. Operators can often highlight which activities are unpopular, difficult or hard work.
It is difficult to be precise — so many factors vary between jobs, workplaces and people. But the general risk assessment guidelines in the next section should help you identify when you need to do a more detailed risk assessment.
General risk assessment guidelines
There is no such thing as a completely 'safe' manual handling operation. But working within the following guidelines will cut the risk and reduce the need for a more detailed assessment.
- Use Figure 1 to make a quick and easy assessment. Each box contains a guideline weight for lifting and lowering in that zone. (As you can see, the guideline weights are reduced if handling is done with arms extended, or at high or low levels, as that is where injuries are most likely to happen.)
- Observe the work activity you are assessing and compare it to the diagram. First, decide which box or boxes the lifter's hands pass through when moving the load. Then, assess the maximum weight being handled. If it is less than the figure given in the box, the operation is within the guidelines.
- If the lifter's hands enter more than one box during the operation, use the smallest weight. Use an in-between weight if the hands are close to a boundary between boxes.
- The guideline weights assume that the load is readily grasped with both hands and that the operation takes place in reasonable working conditions, with the lifter in a stable body position.