Manual Handling in Healthcare – Why it is Important

Manual Handling in Healthcare

Improper manual handling in healthcare can have tragic consequences. Consider the case of one elderly resident in the Meppershall Care Home in Bedfordshire. Mrs May Ward’s carers were lifting her between a chair and a bed, using a hoist, when she fell. The fall left her with fractures to her skull, hip and knee. She died in hospital the following day.

Tragedies like Mrs Ward’s death are entirely preventable, as long as employers and employees do their legal duties to control for the hazards of manual handling in the health care sector. In this article, we will take a look at what this is exactly, the legal duties behind it and what can be done to protect people and organisations from such untimely accidents.

What is Manual Handling?

Manual handling means the carrying, pushing, pulling or lowering of loads. Some form of manual handling occurs in almost every sector, regardless of your role. Manual handling presents a variety of hazards. You can use mechanical aids to help with moving loads, etc but these bring their own set of risks.

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In most workplace situations, loads consist of objects that need to be moved.

In the health care sector, care workers have a variety of objects to handle at work. Loads could include anything from laundry, to catering supplies, to waste or furniture.

‘Live Loads’

‘Live Loads’, as the name describes, can be living people or animals. In this case, they are the residents in care homes. Loads obviously vary in size and weight, but moving people does put the most strain on their body.

Unlike objects, people can become upset, injured or worse, during manual handling, so extra care is needed. May Ward’s death happened due to a lack of care from the care home owner.

In general, people should be handled with dignity, and with their comfort in mind. If they need equipment to help them move, it should be suitable for the individual. This wasn’t the case with May Ward, which was one of the reasons she fell.

Manual Handling Duties:


Because manual handling is dangerous, there is legislation for it that must be complied with. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 provide guidance on how employers can control the risk of injury from manual handling. Other legislation includes:

  • Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
  • Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)

Employers must consider all possible risks and do everything they can to control them. They must:

  • Conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the risks
  • Employ qualified and competent staff
  • Comply with health and safety standards
  • Meet the needs of their residents
  • Ensure residents are treated and safeguarded properly


Employees also have duties when it comes to manual handling.

Employees must:

  • Attend training
  • Follow health & safety best practice
  • Use mechanical aids properly
  • Listen to residents
  • Behave in a way that keeps themselves and others safe
  • Inform management of any hazards or difficulties

Employees are the ones handling people who require care, so they must comply with their duties and understand their responsibilities.

May Ward’s death could have been avoided. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed there was not a good system for handling and moving residents, or appropriate staff training.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has further information about manual handling legislation, if you want to know more.

Fines for Non-compliance

At first, the HSE can only hand out a notice of improvement if they discover breaches in legislation. But after that, organisations could have to pay an unlimited amount in fines, particularly if they’re endangering lives. In some circumstances, fines have reached as much as £800,000, where health and safety negligence has been severe.

The owner of the Merpershall care home, where May Ward died, had to pay over £350,000 in fines and costs because of the incident. The care home was closed three years after because of several ‘poor’ or ‘adequate’ ratings given by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections.

Risks of Manual Handling in Care Homes

Care home residents tend to be elderly and can have various mobility issues, which add to the risk. They could need help with everything from washing, to getting in and out of bed.

Over a million people work in the adult social care sector in the UK, and poor manual handling in care homes could result in injuries for both carers and residents, so good practice is key.

After May Ward’s death, HSE inspector, Emma Page, said “Mrs Ward’s death was a wholly preventable tragedy caused by unacceptable management failings…” then said, “moving and handling is a particularly important issue in the health care sector and every year vulnerable people suffer injuries caused by poor moving and handling practice.”

Manual Handling Consequences for Workers

Manual handling doesn’t just pose risks to people being moved, but also to the workers moving them. An average of 1,420 workers per 100,000 suffer from work related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the health and social work industry. Musculoskeletal disorders cause joint pain in lots of areas, like hips and ankles.

Without proper training and understanding, poor manual handling has other short and long-term consequences, like pulled muscles or bruises.

In extreme cases, manual handling can also cause broken bones or even death, as in the case of May Ward.

How to Prevent Injuries from Manual Handling

To prevent injuries from manual handling in care homes, employers must conduct a risk assessment and put in place controls to take into account the individual needs of the residents. Risk controls will include training, the use of lifting equipment and sufficient housekeeping.

Risks of Manual Handling in Care Homes

Care homes should also have a sufficient amount of staff at all times, so that workers aren’t overwhelmed with handling tasks. There should be plenty of time given to complete the tasks, so they aren’t rushed.

It’s important to be safe when doing manual handling, because the human body is more precious than a piece of machinery. An injury could be lifechanging. So, to prevent potential disasters, guidance and principles should be followed. You can find more details and legal requirements for a safe workplace in these blogs.

Use Manual Handling Equipment

There are many pieces of equipment that can be used in a care home environment, depending on the need.

Equipment includes:

  • Hoists – like mobile or bath hoists
  • Slings – like toilet or transfer slings
  • Slide sheets – which are used to move someone without dragging them
  • Transfer boards – which help with moving residents between furniture
  • Turning aids
  • Electrical profiling beds – which have adjustable heights and positions
  • Wheelchairs
  • Handling belts – to help residents support their own weight
  • Bed levers – which reduce the risk of falls

Just make sure that the equipment is suited to the person it’s helping, otherwise you risk a similar disaster to the May Ward incident.

Manual Handling Training Prevents Injuries:

Whether you’re an employer, or employee, that performs manual handling on the job, you will benefit from manual handling training. As we’ve mentioned, if you’re an employer, you have a legal obligation to provide such training for your employees.

Avoid injury, fines or worse by signing up for a manual handling course with Human Focus. The course gives you what you need – health & safety legal compliance and support.

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