Team Manual Handling – When and How to Do It Safely

team manual handling

Attempting to move an object that’s too heavy on your own typically has two outcomes. Either it doesn’t budge, and you get an opportunity to reassess the task with nothing hurt beyond your pride. Or, you overexert yourself in an ill-advised attempt to prove something or save time. One solution that can protect our bodies (and egos) is team manual handling.

Our guide explores the risks of occupational manual handling and when it’s safer to have more than one person share the load. It also offers practical advice on coordinating team manual handling, ensuring everyone contributes equally and minimising injury risks.

What Team Manual Handling Is

Manual handling is moving or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. You’re manually handling if you’re:

  • Lifting
  • Putting down
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Carrying

This includes loads placed on a mechanical aid such as a trolley or pallet truck. You’re still generating the force to pull or push the load, even if you’re not supporting its weight. A load can be an object, person or animal.

Team manual handling is when two or more people work together to move or support a load by hand or bodily force. It’s one thing you can do to make certain manual handling tasks safer.

what team manual handling is

When to Use Team Manual Handling

Unsafe manual handling causes around a fifth (17%) of all reportable non-fatal injuries, meaning they were severe enough to prompt Health and Safety Executive (HSE) notification. There’s no obligation to report minor incidents or ongoing discomfort, so the number of workers suffering because of unsafe manual handling is much higher. And over time, aches can escalate to full-blown MSDs or at least be enough to make work harder and time off difficult to enjoy.

There’s a hierarchy of controls you should follow when determining how to make manual handling safe. This hierarchy is:

  1. Avoid all manual handling if at all possible
  2. Assess the risks if manual handling cannot be avoided
  3. Reduce risks to a safe level through ranked control measures

Where one person cannot safely move a load, one solution is team manual handling. However, it shouldn’t be the first answer for risky manual handling tasks. Adding a second pair of hands (or third or fourth) doesn’t automatically make manual handling safe if other hazards haven’t been accounted for.

when to use team manual handling

Manual Handling Assessments

Before attempting to move an object, you should conduct an assessment using the TILE framework. TILE stands for Task, Individual, Load and Environment, and each factor will help you decide when team lifting and handling is the safe choice.

Consider these factors before manual handling activities:

Task – What type of movement is needed? Are you carrying or lifting, for example? Will you need to place the object down on ground level? Be particularly mindful of awkward movements or other risk factors, including:

  • Twisting
  • Holding the load away from your body
  • Lifting the load above shoulder height
  • Carrying the load for a long time/over a long distance

Individual – What are your capabilities? How tall are you, and how will that affect the way you hold the load? Do you have any limitations or existing health conditions that might be made worse? Every team member should follow this line of thinking for group manual handling.

Load – How heavy is the load? Any load above 20kg should be split into more manageable 10kg parts.

Is the load larger than 75cm? Is the weight evenly distributed and stable? Large and unbalanced loads are harder (and therefore less safe) to carry.

Environment – Is there adequate space for everyone to move? Are floors even with a suitable grip? Is there enough lighting to see what you’re doing?

Manual Handling Training

Our Manual Handling Training course educates users on safe manual handling principles and techniques to reduce the risk of injuries to a reasonably practicable level. Users learn how to perform manual handling tasks safely and in compliance with health and safety regulations.

6 Tips for Safe Team Manual Handling

If your assessment shows that team manual handling is safe and will protect a solo lifter from injury, follow the tips below.

1. Follow Safe Manual Handling Principles

Working as a team is one control measure that can make some (not all) manual handling tasks safer. Any activity should be risk assessed, and all team members must follow safe manual handling principles at all times.

For further advice on correct manual handling practices, see guidance from the Health and Safety Executive.

2. Keep Team Numbers Practical

While the HSE supports team manual handling as a safer alternative to solo lifting in some cases, it recommends no more than four people are involved.

Coordinating movements becomes more difficult when there are five or more lifters. And any load that needs this many lifters is probably substantial enough that movement by mechanical means is the only safe option. If you think more than four people are needed for the move, pause and double-check your risk assessment.

3. Confirm the Load is Within Safe Limits

Staying with the HSE, the regulator has produced a useful resource for planning safe team lifting and handling. HSE’s manual handling assessment charts (the MAC tool) can be used to assess the risks of solo and team manual handling tasks.

It lets you work out approximate risk levels (graded by colour from green to red) based on the load, its weight, how it’s carried, and relevant environmental factors. It also offers plenty of examples of safe and unsafe manual handling practices.

The MAC tool can only assess lifting, lowering and carrying activities. It does not cover other categories of manual handling (pushing and pulling, for example).

4. Check the Surroundings

Team manual handling is impractical unless everyone involved has enough space to move freely.

Narrow gaps, stairs or other obstacles can force people to adopt unsafe carrying positions or compromise their grip, putting everyone at risk of injuries.

5. Make the Load as Straightforward as Possible to Carry

This is another example of good manual handling practice and isn’t necessarily specific to team efforts. However, when more than one person needs a hand on the object, space around it can be an issue. Some carriers might be forced to grip the object at an awkward or even hazardous point, such as a sharp edge or corner.

Ensure everyone involved has a good grip on the object before attempting the move. If anyone can’t get in a safe position with good purchase, lifting straps or handles can help.

6. Coordinate Your Movements

Like any group activity, efforts need to be coordinated. You also need to choose a team with similar builds, heights and strength levels. Workers who hold the load differently because of their size can make it harder for their colleagues to position themselves correctly.

Similarly, if workers are much stronger than their counterparts, they’ll probably instinctively take more weight, which can cause a dangerous imbalance. Workers who can’t match their team’s contributions may cause the same issue.

It’s also necessary for all workers to move at the same time. Designate a team leader before any lifting operations and agree to move on their command.

Manual Handling Training

Team manual handling is one option for protecting yourself when moving heavy objects. However, everyone involved still needs to understand and practice safe manual handling techniques. It’s also not always suitable, which means you need to be able to assess and make manual handing activities safe on your own.

Our online Manual Handling Training explains what you need to know to prevent injury when moving objects by hand. It covers the basic training requirements, including the hazards and risks of unsafe manual handling, as well as using TILE to assess tasks. You’ll know how to minimise injury risks when moving objects and appreciate when a load is too heavy to handle on your own. (Before you have the strain to prove it.)

About the author(s)

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Jonathan Goby
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