In this article
What is manual handling?
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 amended 2002 is a piece of health and safety legislation that is there to protect workers from dangerous manual handling operations and to help reduce sickness absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. It is often abbreviated to MHOR and both employers and employees have legal duties and responsibilities under MHOR.
These regulations define manual handling as “any transporting or supporting of a load*”, so manual handling doesn’t just mean lifting, it includes:
- Putting down.
- Moving by hand or bodily force.
Enforcement of manual handling regulations under health and safety legislation
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation including the manual handling regulations.
Employers are legally required to:
- Avoid hazardous manual handling operations.
- Make suitable and sufficient assessment of risks prior to any manual handling tasks.
- Reduce risk to lowest reasonably practicable level.
- Provide suitable equipment to minimise staff engagement with manual handling activities.
- Provide employees with regular training and general information, or precise information where reasonably practicable, about the weight of the load and its heaviest side if its centre of gravity is not positioned centrally; and the equipment and techniques to be used when carrying out a manual handling task.
- Give equal consideration to those working away from the employer’s premises.
- Reporting accidents or incidents at work under RIDDOR.
- Retain accurate reports and records on any previous notifiable manual handling incidents and accidents.
Employees are legally required to:
- Take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of their colleagues and clients.
- Use available equipment in accordance with the training and instruction provided.
- Follow the specified systems of work.
- Use proper channels to inform management of accidents or possible hazards.
Employees with pre-existing health issues such as back problems should make their employers aware of the issue as they are required to perform risk assessments based on this information and must put in place reasonable measures to reduce any additional risks, regardless of your health issue.
If you are returning to work after a period of absence due to back pain, whether or not this was as a consequence of a previous manual handling incident, you should remain in constant contact with your employer to ensure that your health is not made worse by work activities.
If your back pain has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities such as manual handling, your employer must make reasonable adjustments to the workplace in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.
There are several actions a Health and Safety Executive inspector can take if they identify a concern or a material breach relating to the manual handling regulations. A minor issue or concern identified may receive informal advice whereas more serious issues, for example a lack of a manual handling risk assessment, could result in enforcement action being taken.
If an inspector believes that there has been a material breach of health and safety regulations, an improvement notice may be issued. If this breach presents a risk of serious injury, then a prohibition notice may be provided which stops the activity from being conducted until the problem has been resolved.
Employers or employees that seriously breach manual handling regulations potentially face a substantial fine based upon the turnover, size and nature of the organisation and/or a custodial sentence.
Other safety legislation to consider in conjunction with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations are the:
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA).
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).
- Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
Types of injuries
Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as back pain, limb and joint pain, and repetitive strain injuries (RSI), resulting from manual lifting and handling account for over a third of all workplace injuries.
Common injuries include:
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) – This includes neck and upper limb disorders, lower limb disorders, back pain and back injuries and damage to joints or other tissues in the body.
- Sprains – The painful twisting of the ligaments of a joint.
- Strains or “pulled muscles” – Injury to the muscle where the muscle fibres tear.
- Prolapsed discs – A rupture of the cartilage of a spinal disc.
- Hernia – A rupture in the lower abdomen caused by excessive strain on the muscles.
- Crushed limbs – Caused by loads falling and trapping limbs.
- Cuts and abrasions – Caused by rough, sharp edges on objects.
All can result in absence from work and normal work activity, as well as prolonged pain. In 2019/20, there were 12,344 injuries related to manual handling reported under RIDDOR. Of these, 940 were specified injuries and 11,404 of these injuries resulted in an absence of over 7 days from work.
Injuries from manual handling can occur wherever people work, such as, but not limited to:
- Care homes.
- Schools and colleges.
- Postal and courier services.
- Delivery drivers and operatives.
- Removal operatives.
- Cleaning operatives.
Building trades, nurses, personal care and skilled agriculture trades have higher rates of total cases of MSDs compared to the average across all other occupations.
Manual handling injuries are not solely caused by lifting or pulling something that is very heavy. Injuries may be caused by the number of times (repetition) you have to lift or carry an item, the distance it is carried, the height you are picking it up from or putting it down at, for example picking it up from the floor, or putting it on a shelf above shoulder level, and any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward posture you may adopt whilst performing the task.
Heavy manual labour, awkward postures and previous or existing injuries are all likely to increase the risk of injury and result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Employers should be aware of some of the levels of compensation that could be levied against them for injuries relating to manual handling injuries.
Compensation for a manual handling accident at work is awarded based on the severity of the injury and part of the body injured. The award ranges are contained in a document called the Judicial College Guidelines (JCG). This document is used by the courts to decide on injury settlement amounts and was updated in April 2021.
Here are some typical examples for manual handling injuries:
|Type of Injury||Severity||Compensation Range|
|Neck||Severe||£42,680 to £139,210|
|Neck||Moderate||£7,410 to £36,120|
|Back||Severe||£36,390 to £151,070|
|Back||Moderate||£11,730 to £36,390|
|Arm||Severe||£90,250 to £122,860|
|Arm||Serious||£36,770 to £56,180|
|Wrist||Severe||£44,690 to £56,180|
|Wrist||Serious||£22,990 to £36,770|
What is the weight limit for manual handling at work?
There are no legal weight limits under the manual handling regulations, however, the regulations require the risk assessment to take into account the task, the load, working environment, individual capability and any other factors such as the impact of any personal protective equipment or clothing on movement or posture.
There are suggested recommendations for manual handling lifting limits which set out guidelines for safe maximum lifting weights for employees. The legal manual handling guidelines suggest that the maximum safe lifting weight for a woman is 16kg, and the maximum safe lifting weight for men is 25kg.
These recommendations change depending on the height the object is lifted to and how the object is carried. These are outlined in the tables below.
Manual handling weight limits for men
|Height Object is Lifted||Maximum Weight Held Close to Body||Maximum Weight at Arm’s Length|
|Mid-Lower Leg Height||10kg||5kg|
Manual handling weight limits for women
|Height Object is Lifted||Maximum Weight Held Close to Body||Maximum Weight at Arm’s Length|
|Mid-Lower Leg Height||7kg||3kg|
These values apply to items that are being carried at the same height, such as transporting a box from one place to another. If an item is being handled between height zones such as lifting an item from a shelf to the ground, then the lower value for the maximum height should be used. For example, if a woman is lowering something from head height to elbow height, the item should not exceed 3kg.
Two-person weight limits
Having two people lift an item doesn’t mean that the maximum weight limit doubles. Whilst it will make the task much easier, the individual capabilities of each person will affect how much weight can be carried, and doubling the recommended maximum weight is usually unsafe.
When two people are lifting an item the approximate rule is that you should not exceed 2/3rds of the total sum of both individual’s lifting limits. For example, if two men, who can carry a maximum of 25kg each, are lifting an object together then the object should not weigh more than around 33kg.
If three people are lifting an object, the maximum weight of this object should not exceed half of the sum of all individual’s lifting limits.
These manual handling weight limits are only general guidance, meaning that some people will struggle with the maximum weight limit and some will find it easy. There are other factors which should be considered when assessing the risk of a manual handling task, which may reduce the amount an individual can carry.
You can use the acronym TILE to consider the other factors that might affect the maximum weight you should be handling.
- Task: Are you going to be handling items for a long time, and is this a task you will be repeating? If your job requires frequent manual handling then you could still be at risk of injury even if you aren’t lifting the maximum weight each time.
- Individual: What are your physical capabilities as an individual? Traits such as age, height, weight and fitness levels will affect the maximum weight you can safely handle, and for how long you can carry out manual handling tasks.
- Load: Is the item you are dealing with easy to handle? Bulky, oversized or slippery objects will be harder to carry and lift safely, which will affect the maximum weight you can handle.
- Environment: Do you have adequate space and visibility? If you are working in cramped conditions then you won’t be able to handle heavy loads safely, and if you cannot see clearly then you are more at risk of injury.
These factors can all be used to carry out a manual handling risk assessment before any lifting or moving takes place. Whilst the recommended manual handling weight limits are a useful guide, remember to also consider TILE, the task, the individual’s capabilities, the load and the environment before deciding whether a lifting task is safe and risk-free.
How to safely lift an item
Before manual handling takes place, employers or managers should consider the following to remove any unnecessary activity:
- Could the items be delivered to a location that means no manual handling has to take place?
- Can the movement of the items be automated?
- Is there any equipment that can be used to make the movement of items easier?
If none of these is possible, then the correct manual handling techniques must be used, particularly when lifting items that are the maximum recommended weight. Following the correct method for lifting and handling heavy loads can help prevent injury and avoid back pain.
- Think before you lift – Plan the lift. Where is the load going to be placed? Will help be needed with the load? Is there equipment you could use, such as a hoist that could help with the lift? Remove obstructions, such as discarded wrapping materials. For long lifts, such as from floor to shoulder height, consider resting the load midway on a table or bench to change your grip on it.
- Keep the load close to the waist – Keep the load close to the waist for as long as possible while lifting to reduce the amount of pressure on the back. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If closely approaching the load is not possible, try to slide it towards the body before trying to lift it.
- Adopt a stable position – Your feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it’s on the ground). Be prepared to move your feet during the lift to maintain a stable posture. Wearing over-tight clothing or unsuitable footwear, such as high heels or flip flops, may make this difficult.
- Ensure a good hold on the load – Where possible, hug the load close to the body. This should help you make a stronger and more solid lift than gripping the load tightly with the hands only.
- Do not bend your back when lifting – A slight bending of the back, hips and knees at the start of the lift is preferable to either fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees, in other words, fully squatting.
- Do not bend the back any further while lifting – This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.
- Do not twist when you lift – Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent. Keep your shoulders level and facing the same direction as the hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.
- Look ahead – Keep your head up when handling the load. Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.
- Move smoothly – Do not jerk or snatch the load as this can make it harder to keep control and increases the risk of injury.
- Know your limits – Do not lift or handle more than you can easily manage. There’s a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If you’re in doubt, seek advice or get help.
- Lower down, then adjust – Put the load down and then adjust. If you need to position the load precisely, put it down first then slide it into the desired position.
Dos and don’ts of manual handling
- Make sure your muscles are warm before any lifting.
- Remove any obstructions from the route you will be taking.
- Plan to stop halfway if you will be handling an item for a long time.
- Keep your back straight and your feet evenly positioned apart.
- Bend from your knees, not your upper body.
- Keep the item as close to your body as possible.
- Distribute the item’s weight equally.
- Stand up and walk as smoothly as possible.
- Lower the object slowly to avoid trapping your fingers.
- Twist, turn or bend your back.
- Lift the item before you know where it is going.
- Carry the object below your waist or above your shoulders.
- Lift from floor level or shoulder height if possible.
- Look down at the item when you are moving.
- Lift multiple items together when they can be carried separately.
- Adjust your grip whilst carrying an item: set it down first.
As manual handling is such an integral part of many jobs, ensure as much as possible that you stick to or below the manual handling lifting weight limits at work. You might not see the risk now, but muscle and joint problems can cause numerous problems later in life both at work and at home.
As we have seen, failure to ensure the health and safety of employees when working with large or heavy loads can lead to serious injury and may come at a great cost to your business. Preventative measures including training are easy for both employers and employees to follow and they make a big difference, so keep them in mind and ensure everyone lifts safely.