Wright Safety Solutions

established 2006

providing Health and Safety for Coventry and Warwickshire medium/small businesses

Safe Manual Handling

Manual Handling

Just looking first at statistics. It's reckoned that there are over 1.2 million people in UK suffering from back pain or strain injuries caused by manual handling their work. And over 10,000 people are absent from their job in construction with work-related illness every day. This has enormous implications for individuals and their families, the industry and the UK economy as a whole.

It's important to remember that strains to the body can happen in several ways not just lifting. Manual handling is the movement of a load by hand or by bodily force so strains can occur when:

  • lifting
  • carrying
  • lowering
  • pulling
  • pushing
  • or any way to move a load

What weight can people lift?

One answer I often give to this question is that "an employee can lift whatever he can if it is without risk". A 10 stone female would be at risk trying to carry 20kg drum in one hand, but to a very strong man lifting 20kg is quite easy and he will feel comfortable moving it with little risk of dropping it. But if the strong man carries it down a series of slippy steps and needs to lift it onto a 5 foot high shelf, then there are increased risks of slipping and/or dropping the weight which could put others nearby at risk. Risks are increased more if the man has the job of moving several 20kg drums, he will get tired, probably strain a muscle and be more likely to drop the weight or slip.

In these considerations we are making risk assessments, and this is key to safe manual handling. Each lifting operation has to be considered separately, taking all factors into consideration - the task, the individual, the load and the environment. Take the 10 stone female again. She would be comfortable carrying a 4kg drum but what about a 4kg bag of polystyrene pellets? The bag would likely be bigger than the woman!

So, weight is not the only factor in manual handling - but it is the most common reason for manual-handling accidents. Nearly half of the UK serious work injuries are from incorrect lifting, mostly causing damage to the lower back. Other injuries include strain of chest muscles, tendon damage in arms, hernias, fractures of fingers etc.

Causes of Injuries

It is not always easy for an employer to recognise a manual handling problem at his business, and so a Manual Handling Risk Assessment is often best conducted with an experienced employee or a consultant.

Wright Safety Solutions can help employers conduct thorough Manual Handling Risk Assessments by considering:

possible indicators

  • accident history
  • sickness.absence history
  • first aid records
  • complaints from employees
  • product damage from movement
  • observation of work in progress
  • ergonomic assessment

Observation of work and accident investigations reveal that it is not just lifting of heavy loads that cause injuries. The main causes are:

  • moving loads that are too heavy
  • poor lifting technique
  • failure to grip safely
  • lack of protective wear (gloves, shoes)
  • repetitive movement

Terms used to describe injuries

Several medical terms are use to describe manual handling injuries, there are current favourites and some old favourites:

WRULD (Work-Related Upper Limb Disorder) - this is the new favourite, and I think it's good because it tells you what caused the injury (work) and tells you what half of the body - the upper limbs are the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and all the muscles between them and the back

MSD (Musculo-Skeletal Disorder or injury) - this covers the WRULDs but also includes injuries to the lower body, hips, legs, ankles, feet. Any of those areas can be injured during manual handling.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) - this term is still used but less so. It was used to describe most injuries arising from lifting and repetitive movement e.g. by employees on assembly lines and using computer equipment extensively. All these are WRULDs.

So WRULD, resulting from stress on the upper body, can arise from lifting a heavy weight but can also arise from ordinary movements like gripping, twisting, reaching, pushing, pulling, moving and the hazard can be created by prolonged repetition, or when the motion is forceful or awkward with unnatural posture or without sufficient recovery time.

Manual Handling Risk Assessments

Conducting assessments is required in regulation Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 1992/2002.

It is not expected that all manual tasks be replaced by machines or lifting equipment, just that the human risk is reduced to an acceptable level, and this can involve task simplification and job rotation.

All manual handling tasks, no matter how trivial, should undergo a proper assessment. And the results should be written down (unless the task is simple and low risk). The proper analysis of a manual handling operation will consider the task, the load, the person(s), the working environment.

Wright Safety Solutions can conduct detailed Manual Handling Risk Assessments at your workplace, ensuring your employees are not at risk, avoiding injuries and avoiding compensation claims.

Wright Safety Solutions
John A. B. Wright
B.Sc. (Chem), TechIOSH
safety qualification: NEBOSH (Gen.Cert.)

Tel: (024) 76618235
Mobile: 0779 3880597



this page first published 1 February 2007
last updated 1 March 2020

Health and Safety for Coventry and Warwickshire medium/small businesses

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