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Written by Martin Coppard 28/11/2021

Removing the strain of manual handling

There’s the perception that manual handling is all about learning how to lift a box, with the clichéd phrase “keep your back straight, bend your knees”. In fact though, it not only covers lifting and lowering, but pushing, pulling and moving as well. 

Failure to do it properly is often painful for the individual and expensive for the business – joint, tendon, disc and ligament damage can be incapacitating and 8.8 million working days were lost in a recent year from such injuries*.  Then there’s also the risk of crushing injuries or bruising when heavy objects are dropped…

Personal injury claims

Many personal injury claims from employees succeed because the employer hasn’t undertaken a ‘suitable and sufficient’ manual handling risk assessment or provided adequate and appropriate manual handling training. 

Don’t fall into the trap of sitting new starters down to watch a generic DVD about lifting square boxes in a warehouse.  Your training needs to cover the manual handling tasks that actually take place in your workplace and the controls that are put in place to ensure they are undertaken safely.

Avoid or reduce manual handling

Your aim should be to avoid the need for manual handling wherever possible - for instance;

  • Mechanising the task - use engine hoists for removing and replacing vehicle engines, or a scissor table for lowering gearboxes.
  • Powered handling equipment – use fork trucks to pick, move and safely lower heavy items.
  • Delivering and storing stock – where possible get delivery agents to bring stock directly into where it’s stored rather than leaving it at reception or the site entrance.

Where it’s not reasonably practicable to avoid manual handling, the risk should be assessed and measures put in place to reduce it.

  • Lifting and handling aids - examples include sack barrows, three-sided roll cages, tyre/wheel trolleys and pallet trucks
  • Minimise travel distances - store parts and accessories as close as possible to the working area.
  • Think about weight - order parts in smaller packages to reduce individual unit weights. You should also store the heaviest items at lower level to avoid the need to pick these up from above head height.
  • Job design – think about ways of working that reduce the amount of twisting, bending and stretching.  It may be necessary to consider job rotation and ensure that workers get adequate periods of rest during shifts.
  • PPE - heavy duty gloves improve grip and protect fingers from cuts and steel toe-capped boots offer some protection where objects are dropped.
  • Comprehensive training - provide employees with information and guidance on safe lifting weights and the correct techniques for the tasks in question.
  • Health surveillance - undertake regular reviews to help detect any early signs of discomfort among workers before their health deteriorates.  This could be in the form of one-to-one interviews, medical questionnaires or through the use of an external Occupational Health practitioner to manage those reporting ill-health symptoms and undertake ergonomic assessments. 

Assessing the risks

As a first step, make sure you’ve identified and assessed the significant manual handling tasks that take place, and that a bespoke risk assessment has been documented for each.  Then review the adequacy of training that’s been provided. Bear in mind that if training is provided only on induction it will need to be periodically refreshed – bad habits and corner-cutting inevitably creep in over time.

We can help with the risk assessment process, suggest suitable control measures and deliver relevant manual handling training for staff or managers.

For more information and advice simply call 0330 008 5555 or email

*Source: HSE 2021

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Categories: Commercial Insurance, Risk Management

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