What is the Hierarchy of Manual Handling?

hierarchy of manual handling

Under UK health and safety legislation, employers are obligated to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare. One of the biggest causes of injury in the workplace is the lifting and moving of loads – otherwise known as Manual Handling. Making sure that your staff are aware of correct lifting techniques is the best way to avoid manual handling accidents and to stay compliant with the law.

The hierarchy of manual handling is a framework that’s used to control risks in the workplace. A good understanding of how it works will enable your team to perform their duties safely.

The Risks of Incorrect Manual Handling Techniques

More than 477,000 UK employees suffered work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) between 2021 and 2022, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). MSDs are defined as conditions and injuries that cause pain to the back, joints and limbs. Many of these injuries and ailments were the result of incorrect manual handling at work.

Manual handling includes activities that involve lifting, pushing, pulling, lowering and carrying loads. If not performed correctly, any of these activities can result in either a short-term or long-term manual handling injury.

Some of the risks of improper manual handling techniques include:

  • Back injuries
  • Sprains and strains
  • Hand injuries
  • Leg injuries
  • Slip, trip and fall injuries
  • Hernias
  • Foot injuries
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Broken bones
  • Inflammation
  • Repetitive strain injury (RSI)

Legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 place the legal obligation on employers to avoid or reduce the risks of manual handling accidents and injuries.

A failure to comply with this legislation can result in significant fines and claims against your organisation.

Manual Handling Training

Our Manual Handling in Industry course helps users ensure that they are sufficiently trained in the principles and practices of safe manual handling to control and minimise manual handling-related injuries and to ensure a safe workplace for all. 

What Is the Manual Handling Hierarchy of Controls?

The manual handling hierarchy of controls is a framework that can be used in conjunction with correct manual handling techniques. The hierarchy of control aims to ensure that employees take a consistent and safe approach when performing manual handling tasks.

A thorough risk assessment of the workplace must be conducted so that safe systems of work can be developed and implemented. The manual handling hierarchy of controls can be used to identify risks and make sure that appropriate measures are taken to eliminate or reduce these risks.

What Are the Five Hierarchies of Control for Manual Handling?

There are five levels in the manual handling hierarchy of controls. Each level is designed to mitigate or eliminate manual handling risks. The hierarchy of manual handling controls is structured from the most effective and most recommended courses of action, to the minimum that must be done.

The five hierarchies of control for manual handling are:

  • Elimination – Removing the risk entirely by avoiding the need for manual handling
  • Substitution – Decreasing the overall weight of the load by splitting it into smaller sections, or by using multiple employees to move the load
  • Engineering controls – Using different work practices, lifting equipment or mechanical aids to reduce the risk of manual handling injury
  • Administrative controls – Changing work practices to ensure that employees are not overworked. Administrative controls also include providing proper manual handling training
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Providing employees with PPE that can reduce the risks of manual handling. This can include reinforced non-slip footwear or gloves
Manual handling risk control

What Are the Five Steps of Manual Handling?

Every workplace is different and requires employees to perform a variety of manual handling tasks. This makes it difficult to provide exact rules that perfectly fit every manual handling situation. However, adhering to basic procedures can help to reduce the risk of a manual handling injury occurring.

Health and safety experts have developed five key steps that can be followed to ensure safe manual handling at work. Often referred to as the five P’s, these steps can greatly reduce the likelihood of manual handling accidents.

The Five Steps to Follow if a manual handling task cannot be avoided altogether:

  • Step One: Plan – Assess the environment and the load to be moved. Make sure the way is clear and that the floor is not slippery. Decide if one person can move the object or if two or more may be needed.
  • Step Two: Position – make sure your body is in the correct position to move the load. Centre your body and feet. Place your feet apart with one leg slightly forward. Bend at the knees and not with your back. Make sure you have a firm grip on the object.
  • Step three: Pick – When lifting, use your leg muscles to give you momentum and not your back muscles. Keep the object close to your body and lift it with a fluid, natural motion.
  • Step Four: Proceed – When carrying the object hold it close to your body. Keep the load supported with your arms and keep your spine, head, and neck straight. Do not twist, bend, or reach when carrying a load.

Step Five: Place – When lowering the object maintain good posture and bend with your knees, not your back. Position the object using a steady motion. Do not drop the object suddenly.

What Must You Take into Consideration When Manual Handling?

  • What are your capabilities to lift? Consider your height and strength. This varies from person to person
  • What limitations do you have? Consider any existing health conditions that may be worsened by the activity. Never conduct any manual handling unless you are confident it will not put you at an unreasonable risk of injury
  • How heavy is the load? Should the load be split? Any load that weighs 20 kilograms or more should be split and the parts lifted individually. However, you may need to reduce this limit where conditions dictate – for example, when the loads are particularly bulky or unstable
  • Is it easy to grip the load? Loads larger than 75 centimetres in any direction may be difficult to grip
  • Is one side of the load heavier than the other? The heavier sides of loads should be held closer to the chest
  • Is the load stable? If the load is unstable, it may be unsafe
  • Are there space constraints that require you to use unnatural postures?
  • Are floors slippery, uneven, or cluttered?
  • Are there variations in floor levels?
  • Is there enough lighting?
  • Is the temperature suitable? Extremely hot or cold temperatures can increase the risk of injury from manual handling tasks

Create a Safer Workplace with Manual Handling Training

As an employer, you must provide a safe workplace for your employees. If their tasks involve moving heavy loads, then providing manual handling training is a legal obligation. Failure to do so can result in workplace injuries or accidents as well as penalties from authorities such as the HSE.

Stay safe at work and sign up for a manual handling training course from Human Focus. The courses will make sure that you and your team can carry out your duties safely and comply with all relevant health and safety legislation.

The Human Focus manual handling training covers all aspects of manual handling for a range of sectors. Whether you work in an office or a warehouse, you should learn how to move loads safely.

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