Nearly all jobs require you to lift or carry items on a daily basis, most of the time, this happens without fuss or harm. Unfortunately accidents still happen on a very regular basis across the UK. Manual handling is defined as the supporting or transporting of a load manually (e.g. by hand or by use of bodily force). This can include but is not limited to lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying or putting down a load.
Nearly all jobs require you to lift or carry items on a daily basis, most of the time, this happens without fuss or harm. Unfortunately accidents still happen on a very regular basis across the UK.
What is manual handling?
Manual handling is defined as the supporting or transporting of a load manually (e.g. by hand or by use of bodily force). This can include but is not limited to lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying or putting down a load.
Many of the tasks we do on a daily basis require manual handling, whether it be carrying files around an office, carrying materials around a construction site or picking up your child. More often than not injuries are caused by incorrect methods of manual handling and not knowing their own limit.
Manual handling injuries in the UK
Manual handling injuries fall into the category of work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), other causes of WRMSDs include awkward/tiring positions, keyboard work or repetitive action, workplace accident and stress-related.
Between 2009-10 and 2011-12 the average number of musculoskeletal disorders per 100,000 workers was 1,680. Manual handing is reported to have caused 740 of these injuries which equates to around 44%.
Work related musculoskeletal disorders are more common injuries for those between the ages of 45-54 and those over 55. During the period of 2015-16 and 2017-18 males in the age categories 45-54 and 55+ suffered significantly higher rates than the average with 2,120 cases and 2,190 cases per 100,000 workers respectively. Females in the same age ranges also had significantly higher rates with 1,960 and 2,220 cases per 100,000 workers respectively.
WRMSDs represent around 25% of all days lost due to work-related ill health in Great Britain in 2017/18, this equates to 6.5 million lost days. Out of this 6.5 million, work related upper limb disorders account for around 2.6 million days lost, with back disorders around 2.2 million and lower limb disorders causing 1.7 million.
What should employers do to protect employees?
Employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their staff, employers also have a legal duty to follow the Manual Handling Operations Regulations. These regulations were put in place to protect employees from injuries due to manual handling in the workplace.
Although there is no such thing as a ‘no lifting’ policy within the regulations, they instead state that manual handling should only be performed when it is absolutely necessary and once the risks have been assessed and minimised where possible.
The best way for employers to ensure the safety of staff in the workplace is to ensure they adhere to three rules, which are:
Avoid manual handling wherever possible
The most effective method of ensuring the employees are not injured while manual handling is to avoid all manual handling. This can include using machinery or other equipment (e.g. lifts and trolleys) to complete the task at hand or assist at very least.
However, it’s acknowledged that there are instances where avoidance is not possible.
Assess the risk of manual handling where it is required
Where avoidance is not an option and manual handling is the only option, an assessment should be performed to ensure that any remaining risks are minimised.
When completing a risk assessment employees should focus on the main areas of:
- The task in hand
- The load involved
- The working environment
- The individuals involved capability
Within this, factors to consider include:
- Whether the activity involves twisting, bending, sudden movement and the distance of travel required
- The size and weight of the load
- The space available to perform the activity in and the conditions of the area (wet, slippery, etc)
- The strength and height of the individual
Reduce the risk of injury
To reduce the risk of injury employees should take into considerations such as whether or not more than one person can perform the task, could the loads be made smaller and whether the distance of travel could be reduced.
Employers should also provide their employees with manual handling training to ensure they know the safe way to lift objects. Just by doing this, employers could see a vast reduction in the number of injuries that occur in the workplace, with vast majority of injuries sustained due to poor handling techniques.