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How Manual Handling In Construction Remains A Significant Source Of Pain; Ill Health; and Lost Working Days


Manual handling is an occupational hazard that is extremely common across multiple industries, with construction being no exception. In construction, workers are often required to move and lift loads, often repetitively. If they are not given the right health and safety training and equipment for these tasks, it can lead to a variety of muscuskeletal disorders (MSDs). These types of injury can be painful, debilitating, and lower quality of life.

While there is a clear legal requirement to prevent these types of injuries on worksites, they still remain all too common. According 2020’s key statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), some 81,000 workers suffer from work-related ill health, of which 57% are a result of MSDs.

If you manage or employee anyone in the construction industry, it is essential that you understand exactly what manual handling is and what you need to do to prevent its associated risks.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling hazards involve any task that requires someone to push, pull, lift, lower, or carry a load. Examples of this can be moving a loaded box, restraining a person/animal or lifting a container with sudden, sustained, or repetitive force.

In construction, there are a wide variety of tasks which require this type of work. If these type of tasks are done improperly the end result is injury and ill health.

Manual handling’s in the construction sector

In the UK, manual hazards remain one of the biggest causes of workplace injuries. According to the HSE, manual handling is the most common over 7- day injury in the industry. As a result, skilled construction and building trades have one the highest estimated rates of back and upper limb disorders. This amounts to numerous lost working days and a significant financial burden, which is already substantial for the sector.

In 2019/2020, the estimated economic cost of workplace injury and new cases of work-related ill health in construction was £1.2 billion.

What are the main causes of manual handling injuries?

Identifying manual hazards is the first step of preventing injuries. The hazards may vary on the severity of the risk, and the type of task the employee us undertaking.

Heavy & awkward loads: On any construction site, numerous loads need be moved. This includes things like raw materials, such as steel and bricks, and equipment, such as scaffolding that must be manually assembled. When these loads are heavy, unstable, sharp, or difficult to grasp, it makes the risk all the worse.

Applying force incorrectly: Force must be applied to any load to move it. How workers position their bodies to do this will determine what level and type of strain is placed on the body. For instance, is the load being pushed, pulled, lifted, turned or carried? What physical exertion is required to do this.

Repetitive tasks: When construction workers are required to do the same tasks repetitively, significant ill health can develop over time. Repetitive movements include anything that invovlves moving, lifting or pushing a load continuously – for instance, transferring bricks from one pallet to another. This can result in repetitive strain injury (RSI), resulting in damage to muscles and tendons.

Poor Posture: When workers bend or reach to lift and lower loads with improper handling techniques, the body is placed in awkward posture. This can lead to uneven stress on the lower spine, shoulders, and arms causing pain and fatigue.

Slipping & tripping: Equipment, wires, leaked fluids, unever surfaces, unattended loads and materials are a common tripping and slipping hazard for construction workers. When slips and trips happen, while manual handling is involved, it can result in severe injury.

The health effects of manual handling

The musculoskeletal injuries caused by manual handling directly affect the tendons, muscles, joints, limbs or the back. Common symptoms include mild to severe pain, discomfort, tingling in affected area, and numbness. This may differ depending on the severity of the damage to the tissue, ranging from mild and periodic, to severe, chronic and debilitating conditions.

If proper care if not taken, tissue damage can increase and cause long-term disabilities such as MSDs.

The types of illness caused by manual handling includes:

Upper limb disorders

MSDs include a variety of injuries and disorders of the wrists, arm, shoulder, neck and back as well as upper and lower extremities.

It can result in:

  • Osteoarthritis: a degenerative condition that affects the joints
  • Tennis elbow: a condition that causes pain around the outside of the elbow
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome: leads to pressure on a nerve in your wrist, causes tingling, numbness and pain
  • Repetitive strain injury: pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons due to repetitive force

Lower limb disorders

These MSDs affect the hip, thigh, knee, calf, ankle or foot. They include joint and soft tissue problems and can be caused or made worse by work.

These include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Knee bursitis: causes tenderness and swelling, and a reduction in knee movement
  • Meniscal lesions & tear: a debilitating condition that affects the cartillag of the knee
  • Stress fracture: caused by repeated micro-injuries to bone, leading to cracks
  • Varicose veins: causes enlarging and twisting of veins of the injured area

Back Pain

Lower back pain is quite common between construction workers and can be extremely painful if left untreated. Back pain ranks among the top ten reasons for medical visits.

Reasons for back pain include:

  • Gradual wear and tear (degeneration of the spine) caused by frequent or prolonged periods of manual handling activity
  • Injury to the lumbar spine due to repetitive back bending, pulling and lifting from overhead or forward bending and twisting
  • Increased wear and tear or sudden damage to the discs caused by intense or strenuous manual handling or awkward lifts

Risk controls for manual handling

Under the law, duty holders in the construction sector must assess the risks of manual handling and ensure they are accurately controlled through each phase of a construction project.

Most manual handling injuries happen due to unawareness or negligence and can easily be avoided through control measures and proper training. Learning manual handling techniques takes a little time and keeps your organisation legally compliant with the health and safety regulations.

The hierarchy of risk controls should be applied. This includes:


When considering hazards such as manual handling, the most preferred option is to eliminate it. Elimination involves designing and organising tasks in a way that manual handling is no longer needed.

For example, a warehousing company may use powered equipment such as lift trucks, conveyor belts and electric hoists for handling heavy loads. Elimination measures can also include changing the nature of work or transforming the ergonomics of a workspace.


Substituition measures usually involve replacing or interchanging processes with one that involve lesser risks. For instance, can construction materials be purchased in smaller containers to reduce the size of the load? Or can the load be divided up into smaller sizes?

Engineering Controls

When construction organisations require the need to separate the hazard from workers and equipment operators, additional machinery can be installed as engineering controls to minimise manual handling risks. This can include specialised cabinets, ladders, and lifting equipment to reduce manual handling hazards.

Safe Systems of Work

Have clear systems in place to ensure loads are properly assessed before they are moved and only moved in a safe manner. For instance, staff must understand what type of loads must be moved by more than one person and when lifting equipment should be used.

Providing proper training to workers in carrying out manual handling activities is vital risk control. Employees must be trained in proper techniques for manual handling and should be informed of the risks of accidents and ill health. The training must be relevant to their work activities such as manual handling in construction so workers can identify the hazards before undertaking a task.

Where to Learn Manual Handling in Construction?

Human Focus’s manual handling in construction course teaches learners the key principles that are effective to underpin safe manual handling.

The training course identifies the risks associated with performing manual handling in construction work and suggests procedures to minimise these risks. Our course content complies with the latest Health and Safety legislations and covers complex subject knowledge made easier through rich-media and interactive exercises. You can also take training anywhere and anytime on your smartphone.

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