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Manual Handling

Whenever an item is moved, carried, dragged, shifted or otherwise manipulated by the power of a person, this is 'Manual Handling'.  There are various hazards involved when manually handling any item or object, and an assessment of the risk posed these hazards is a good starting point.

Manual Handling Hazards

Poor manual handling technique can lead to back pains and other 'musculoskeletal disorders' affecting other areas of the body.  These can lead to immediate (acute) or long-term (chronic) pain, discomfort or injury.  Some objects are intrinsically harmful, such as hot items, chemicals or sharp objects, and the nature of the object to be moved also needs consideration.

A person is also at increased risk of other kinds of injury, such as those caused by tripping or slipping over, when you are carrying something.  There is also the possibility of minor injuries such as cuts, bruises and scrapes due to the item being moved or the way in which it is being carried, moved or manipulated.  In addition, fingers and other limbs could be trapped between an object and a surface when an object is being put down.

The environment where the object is being manually handled can have a significant impact on the risk too.  This might be cause by a change of levels or stairs, insufficient lighting, a low or high temperature and, if outdoors, the weather conditions such as wind and rain or ice.

Principles of Manual Handling Safety

The general principles of manual handling are:

  1. Avoid manual handling operations wherever possible.  This might be by mechanising processes or designing ways in which manual handling is simply not needed.
  2. Where it is not possible to avoid manual handling, assess the risks caused by the task, the object being carried, the person doing the task and the influence of the work environment on them.
  3. As part of the risk assessment, put into place measures to reduce the risk, hence preventing harm to people

Manual Handling Risk Assessment

There are four main areas that need to be considered in any Manual Handling assessment, which can be summarised as: load, individual, environment and task.  These are summarised below.

Bullet pointThe load
Think about the weight of the object.  While some loads might be heavy and others light, think also about the size and shape of the load and the number to be carried or lifted.  Some items (such as boxes with handles) are easier to carry than a large plastic bag which is much lighter but bulkier.  Consider also how stable the load is – it could be off balance or an object that slides about inside a box.  Lastly, think about the properties of the load, including temperature, sharp objects, chemical risks (although you are likely to need to complete a separate chemical risk assessment).

Bullet pointThe individual
Not all people are identical – some are able to carry a much heavier weight than others and there is no 'standard' maximum weight that a person is permitted to lift.  The best approach is to discuss this with the person or people doing the carrying, bearing in mind that they might overestimate their strength and stamina.  Remember that younger people are more prone to injury and in adolescence might overestimate their capabilities or be subject to peer pressure.

Bullet pointThe environment
In this part of the assessment, think about anything within the work environment that could cause harm.  This might be due to temperature, low lighting levels, slippery, wet or icy floors or damaged floor surfaces.  Steps and stairs are particularly hazardous.  The person carrying the object might not be able to see where they are walking if the object is too large, which could lead to accidents at changes of floor level.  There might be postural constraints on the person caused by the working environment, such as a low ceiling, which could lead to long-term injury as well as head injuries.

Bullet pointThe task
Look at how the task is performed.  Many items will be moved from one place to another, and the route that this movement takes needs to be looked at to decide if there are any stages that could lead to an injury.  This might be, for example, the movement of an item up stairs, through doors and manipulating it into position.  Consider how the task as a whole – from start to finish through any route taken – could affect someone's safety.

A large number of manual handling operations are likely to be found – even lifting and moving a small number of hymn books counts as a manual handling operation.  This does not mean, however, that a lengthy paper-based Risk Assessment is needed in all cases.  Use the above pointers as a guide – if you think that anything is above a low risk level, you should carry out a more detailed assessment.

As with all Risk Assessments, you need to record the significant findings if you employ five or more people.  ChurchSafety suggests that you keep a record of all Risk Assessments you carry out.  For more information about Risk Assessment, please see our main Risk Assessment page.

This Risk Assessment might identify a number of improvements that could be made to reduce the risk of manual handling.  A number of suggestions are given in the next section.

Risk Reduction

Bullet pointThink about where things are stored.  Position heavier objects so that they are easily reached and handled without stretching and avoiding the use of step ladders and to prevent people stooping down.  Although heavy items are often placed low down, this could pose a greater risk to someone lifting it up to a suitable height for carrying than if it were raised up slightly on a shelf.

Bullet pointPlan where and how objects will be moved before starting.  Ensure that the route is clear and that the location where the item is to be placed is clear.

Bullet pointAvoid storing items where there are space constraints that mean that someone has to bend awkwardly to get at something.  Also avoid routes where something has to be carried awkwardly, such as a long tube being carried up spiral stairs.

Bullet pointIf possible, mark the weight onto containers, boxes and bags to help people decide if they are capable of lifting the load.  Ensure that items within containers are secure and stable so that the objects do not move about inside.

Bullet pointIf items are stacked, try to secure them or use containers that lock together securely to prevent the upper items falling off.

Bullet pointConsider if the person carrying the load is best suited to the task, or if assistance is needed (such as using a team lift technique where more than one person lifts the load).

Bullet pointPersonal protective equipment can get in the way of lifting and carrying and can restrict dexterity, but gloves could be used to protect the hands from cuts, likewise steel  toe-capped shoes can protect the feet from items that fall onto feet.

Bullet pointReduce the size of boxes, bags and other containers.  It is better to make more journeys to carry the same amount in smaller quantities than to try and carry it all at once.

Bullet pointEnsure that all floor surfaces are free from slip and trip hazards, steps and stairs are free from damage and floors are free of ice, water and anything else that could cause someone to slip.  The route should be well lit by either natural light or artificial light.

Bullet pointAvoid carrying items up or down ladders or steps as this can significantly increase the risk of falling.

Bullet pointReduce the distance something needs to be carried.  Perhaps a break or brief rest could be incorporated into the task by including a mid-way resting place into the route to be taken.

Bullet pointUtilise a good lifting technique.  Training courses are available in lifting techniques from a number of different sources and would be recommended where repeated and regular lifting of loads is taking place.

Bullet pointUse mechanical aids to assist movement, such as wheels, glides and trolleys.  Note that mechanical lifting equipment is covered by regulations that require, amongst other things, routine inspection of lifting equipment and planning of (mechanical) lifting operations.

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