The Manual Handlings Operations Regulations 1992, later amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002, places a legal requirement on employers to avoid dangerous manual handling, to assess any risk of injury from manual handling, to train all employees who are involved in manual handling at work, and to reduce any risks as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’.
Managing risks of manual handling in the workplace
Incorrect manual handling can lead to both immediate injuries and the development of long-term illnesses and conditions. Employee injuries, whether immediate or long term may result in:
- an injured employee taking time off work to recover
- an injured employee making a claim against their employer
- reduced productivity in the workplace
The penalties faced by any employer who does not comply with the manual handling regulations include prosecution, unlimited fines and in severe cases, imprisonment.
With the potential for such serious repercussions, it is in every employer’s interests to include manual handling in their ongoing workplace health and safety regime.
How to perform a manual handling risk assessment
The risk assessment must be carried out by a competent, suitably knowledgeable and experienced person. This may be the employer or an appointed member of staff.
The process of the risk assessment should be to assess, evaluate, respond and record.
Firstly, the workplace must be assessed for manual handling hazards, taking into consideration the following factors:
- Manual handling tasks: What manual handling tasks take place in the workplace and what physical actions that could pose a risk do they involve? For instance, does an item have to be lifted up high? Is it necessary to hold an item away from the body when moving it? Does this manual handling task take place on a repetitive basis? Do the involved workforce have sufficient rest periods in between manual handling tasks?
- Loads: What is the nature of the loads being manually handled? Are they large, heavy or awkward to move? Are the loads unstable? Is the load so large that the employee carrying it cannot see over or around it? Is the load harmful in some way, perhaps hot or abrasive?
- Work environment: Does the surrounding work environment restrict movement? For instance, where an employee stores stationery in a walk-in cupboard and the floor is used for storage, it may be necessary to hold the load away from their body to place it on a shelf. Is the floor area itself a hazard, due to obstructions, for instance? Is there poor lighting? Does the use of personal protective equipment, such as gloves, make it difficult to carry out manual handling in a safe fashion?
- Employees: Are the employees involved physically capable of manual handling? For instance, are they strong enough to lift a load off the floor? Is the load too large for them to safely grasp it with their hands? Does an employee have a physical disability which makes manual handling difficult? Are pregnant women expected to lift heavy items? Is there sufficient information and training available to employees on manual handling?
- Manual handling equipment: Where manual handling equipment is used, is it right for the job? Is the equipment maintained to a satisfactory level? Is it suitable for the employees using it?
- Work organisation: This is related to how manual handling work is organised in the workplace. Is the manual handling work repetitive? Does the process involve machinery? Is the work boring or excessive? Do employees feel that they can communicate with their managers regarding the work?
Secondly, who is at risk from the identified hazards? This could be the employees carrying out the manual handling tasks or other workers in the vicinity. Speak to staff members to find out their concerns and check the accidents and ill health records for any developing trends.
Evaluate and respond
Firstly, does a manual handling task need to take place? Can you completely avoid it? For instance, instead of an employee carrying a delivery of vegetables from the front of a restaurant to the storage area at the back of the property, could the vegetables be delivered directly to where they’re needed, hence removing the need for the employee to put themselves at risk?
Could the process be automated, for instance, by using a fork lift truck? Is there any need for an employee to personally carry out the manual handling?
Can you eliminate any of the risks? In that stationery cupboard mentioned above, remove all the items stored on the floor and introduce a suitable set of steps to eliminate the risk involved in holding the load away from the body and reaching up high.
If risks can’t be eliminated, can they be controlled? Can you reduce the distance that a load must be carried over? Can you reduce the size of loads, hence putting less strain on employees carrying those items? Can you provide more breaks for employees who are involved in repetitive load handling, or vary their workloads?
Implement any measures to eliminate or control manual handling risks, including informing and training your workforce. The manual handling regulations legally require that any employees who carry out manual handling must be appropriately trained.
Training should include:
- the risks of manual handling and how injuries can happen
- safe manual handling methods
- systems of work suited to the manual handling task and work environment
- how to use manual handling equipment
- practicing safe and correct manual handling
Record and review
Where there are five or more employees, there is a legal requirement to record the findings of any risk assessment carried out.
Similarly, employers must arrange for the risk assessment to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it is up-to-date and, where necessary, to implement any changes. A record of these reviews must be kept with the original risk assessment.
Beyond demonstrating compliance with the manual handling regulations and health and safety law in general, maintaining a record of risk assessments and their reviews provides evidence that the employer has done everything possible to protect the health and safety of their workforce in the case of an accident at work.
Manual handling training – who needs it?
The answer to this question is ‘more people than you might at first think’. Manual handling training isn’t just for manual labourers, delivery drivers and factory staff.
Most offices use printer paper so who lifts and carries the office supply to the stationery cupboard? What about nurses, or shop workers? A member of staff at a nursery will most likely have to lift a toddler or two each day.
The manual handling regulations apply to any workplace where workers will be involved in any form of manual handling.
Is there a maximum weight that an employee can handle at work?
There is no legal maximum weight limit. Most people will not be able to safely manage more than 20 to 25kg but the manageability of any weight will depend on:
- the task – how far is the load being carried, for instance?
- the employee – their personal capabilities
- the load – how bulky, awkward or large it is
- the work environment – the amount of space available or whether the employee can see over or around the load, for instance.
Why take advice?
With the potential for prosecution, unlimited fines and imprisonment in the case of non-compliance with the manual handling regulations, taking specialist advice can ensure that an employer is fully informed of their legal obligations to safeguard their workforce and business.