Moving any type of heavy load using an unsafe manual handling technique can result in serious injury. In fact, manual handling injuries are one of the leading causes of absences, work-related illnesses and injuries in the UK.
Under UK health and safety laws, all employers have the responsibility to create safe working conditions for their employees. Meeting this obligation means finding the safest ways possible for your team to complete their duties. All workers and managers should receive training in how to move loads safely and avoid injuries caused by poor manual handling techniques.
What is Manual Handling? A Simple Definition
If you have ever had to move any kind of heavy or cumbersome object in the workplace, then you have completed a manual handling task. Manual handling happens in almost every type of workplace, from construction sites to offices to busy shops. No matter where you work or what your job entails, chances are you will have to move a heavy load at some point.
Manual handling is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as the act of ‘transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force’. Manual handling involves any type of moving, lifting, putting down, pulling or carrying loads. A load can be any type of object or what is known as a ‘live load’, such as a human or an animal.
Legislation Covering Manual Handling
Workplace health and safety in the UK is primarily covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This act outlines the general responsibilities that employers and employees have in the workplace.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 specifically deals with issues involving manual handling at work. It provides guidelines on how to avoid poor manual handling injuries. Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, employers are required to:
- Avoid manual handling duties ‘so far as reasonably practicable’
- Assess the risks associated with manual handling tasks
- Reduce or eliminate these risks
Read our previous blogs about the manual handling regulations.
Jobs with a Higher Risk of Poor Manual Handling Injuries
Some occupations involve more manual handling than others. People who work in the below sectors are particularly at risk of developing manual handling injuries:
- Aged care
- Retail (stock assistants, for example)
- Public administration
- Child care
- Industrial cleaning
- Social work
What Are the Consequences of Poor Manual Handling?
Around 1/3 of all workplace accidents are the result of poor manual handling, as estimated by the HSE. The consequences of poor manual handling include:
- Short-term injuries such as cuts, sprains and bruises
- Long-term injuries such as broken bones and musculoskeletal injuries and health conditions
- Mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety
Preventing the physical ailments and mental health issues caused by poor manual handling techniques is the responsibility of both employers and employees.
The Costs of Poor Manual Handling
More than a million workers in the UK suffered a work-related injury or illness during the 2021-2022 period, according to the HSE. Around 470,000 workers reported that they incurred a work-related musculoskeletal disorder during this time.
This number includes 175,000 injuries to the neck or upper limbs, some 99,000 injuries to the lower limbs and 202,000 back injuries. There were 7.3 million working days lost due to manual handling injuries during the same period. This works out to an average of 15.2 lost working days per incident.
UK public service union UNISON, was recently awarded £29 million in compensation for their members as a result of claims for work-related injuries. This amount was the result of just under 2,000 claims made between November 2021 and November 2022. The majority of these claims were for personal injuries sustained at work, with a large percentage consisting of claims for manual handling injuries.
Common Musculoskeletal Disorders
The consequences of poor manual handling techniques include a range of work-related musculoskeletal disorders or WRMSDs. WRMSDs are typically caused by using an unsafe manual handling technique such as moving a load using a contained or fixed body position.
Repeated movements, force that is concentrated on a particular part of the body or a fast pace of work, can also result in the development of WRMSDs.
There are three main categories of WRMSDs:
- Muscle injuries
- Tendon injuries
- Nerve injuries
Common WRMSDs are:
- Back strains
- Neck strains
- Shoulder strains
- Lateral epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
- Cartilage tears
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Avoiding Poor Manual Handling Injuries
Employers are required by law to perform risk assessments to determine if the daily duties that employees must perform may result in harm to themselves or others. This obligation includes carefully considering the risks involved in manual handling tasks.
The first thing a manager or employer must consider is if poor manual handling injuries can be avoided by eliminating the need for the task altogether. If a manual handling task cannot be avoided, then an employer must put in place controls to reduce the risk of injuries or accidents to an acceptable level. Controls will include the provision of manual handling equipment, such as trollies or hoists. It must also include the provision of training.
Recommended Lifting Techniques
To avoid the consequences of poor manual handling, training should cover proper manual handling techniques, which minimise risk of injury.
This should include learning how to:
- Plan the lift carefully
- Remove any obstructions from the path you will be carrying the load
- Make sure that you have a stable footing
- Ensure you have a stable, tight grip on the load
- When lifting, bend with your knees, avoid crouching or stooping, and
- Lift the load with a smooth motion
- Do not twist, stretch or lean backwards
- Keep the load close to your body
- Share the load with other workers, if possible
- Break the load down into smaller parts that are easier to carry, if possible
- Reduce the distance you have to carry the load, where possible,
- Use a lifting aid or equipment, if possible
- Set the load down gently, with a smooth motion
- If the load must be positioned, put it down and then slide it into place
Sign Up for Manual Handling Training and Avoid Injuries
Poor manual handling techniques are a leading cause of workplace injuries. Providing your team with manual handling training will help to avoid accidents or WRMSDs. It is also a legal requirement under health and safety legislation that employers provide adequate manual handling training for staff.
Don’t run the risk of legal action against your business or the significant penalties associated with breaching health and safety regulations. Ensure that your staff have the knowledge they need to complete their tasks safely.
The Human Focus manual handling courses cover all aspects of manual handling principles, risk assessments, and correct lifting techniques. With an average length of just 30 minutes, courses can be completed online at your convenience. All courses are industry specific and accredited and recognised by leading UK health and safety authorities.
Discover the full range of Human Focus manual handling training courses today.