Lifting and carrying objects are among the main causes of accidents in the British workplace. But with care and diligence, most of these injuries are avoidable. If you lift a heavy object carelessly you can end up pulling muscles or even worse, suffer long-term damage to your back or upper limbs. Our guide to manual handling techniques will help you understand how to avoid injury while lifting and carrying at work.
It’s vital that if your job involves lifting, you know how to do it properly. A few simple measures such as clear planning, and the use of proper lifting techniques can help reduce the risk of injury and keep you safe and healthy at work.
What is Manual Handling?
Manual handling can be described as lowering, lifting, pulling, pushing, holding, restraining, carrying, throwing or handling.
Although lifting injuries are often associated with the weight of the object being moved, anybody can get hurt at work after pulling, pushing, lifting or carrying something incorrectly.
Other risk factors during manual handling include:-
- How often an object needs to be picked up.
- Distance it might be carried.
- Poor posture whilst moving the object.
- The height you pick it up and put it down from.
These type of accidents not only lead to occasional short-term problems but, over time, can lead to serious Musculoskeletal disorders. 75% of injuries caused by manual lifting could be prevented. In the food and drinks industry, manual handling and lifting causes 30% of all acute injuries.
Manual Handling Injuries
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the biggest risk to British workers. There were an estimated 470,000 cases in UK workers in 2020 / 21.
The care / social work and construction sectors had much higher average rates of this type of injury. This is unsurprising given the type of work carried out within these industries. This highlights the importance of proper manual handling techniques and appropriate manual handling training.
The type of injuries that can be inflicted by lifting and carrying include Back Pain, problems with joints muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue.
Many MSDs are caused through manual handling and can be brought on by:-
- Heavy lifting.
- Repetitive tasks, using the same muscles over and over again.
- Lifting things incorrectly.
- Pushing or pulling heavy loads.
It’s estimated that a third of all reported Workplace Injuries are caused by things like lifting, pulling, carrying and lowering objects.
Manual Handling Risk Assessments & Preparation
Initially your employer should have made some preparations for you if the job involves any sort of manual handling. Under the legal regulations employers must:-
- Carry out a Risk Assessment to identify any possible hazards.
- Look at other ways of moving the load to avoid manual handling.
- Provide alternative means of carrying out the task, if any are available.
The first thing to think about is whether the load needs to be moved at all. If it really does need to be moved then you should think about any tools or equipment that could help.
For example, a trolley may be a safer way of moving the goods than lifting them by hand. You should also see if it’s possible to make the load smaller or lighter.
If you need to lift or carry things regularly you should ask for proper training in the correct techniques and health and safety procedures.
Most manual handling accidents are caused by improper lifting techniques. It is important that you plan each job carefully and make sure you know the best way of moving each particular load.
You should also:-
- Know your own limitations.
- Have an emergency plan in case something goes wrong.
- Identify and use any equipment that might help.
- Ensure you have a good grip before lifting.
- Get help from others when lifting heavy loads.
- Avoid repeating the same task over and over again.
Manual Handling Techniques
All workers have the legal right to be protected from any unnecessary risks. You should be protected from injuries by your employer. If you have any concerns about lifting at work you should consult your supervisor, trade union or staff representative.
Your employer should provide suitable training courses to all those responsible for lifting and handling.
Following these simple steps will ensure proper manual handling techniques are being used, and will reduce the chance of injuries:-
- Make sure you are standing directly in front of the item you wish to lift.
- Check if the item has handles which you could use.
- Know where you are taking the object before you begin.
- Position your feet evenly (shoulder width apart).
- Keep your back straight and stand up tall.
- Tighten your stomach muscles.
- Squat to the floor by bending your knees – DO NOT move your upper body.
- Take hold of the object firmly with both hands.
- Distribute the weight evenly – make sure you are not unbalanced.
- Keeping the object close to your body, begin to stand up by straightening your legs. This will use your leg muscles and shouldn’t put strain on other areas.
- Stand up slowly. Do not move quickly or jerk when doing this.
- You can now walk with the object, but be careful not to twist your body unnecessarily. Take small steps if possible.
- If you are carrying a large object which restricts your view, ask if someone can guide you. This will prevent you from tripping or bumping into objects.
- When placing the item down, bend your legs.
- Remember to keep your back straight as you bend down again.
- Be careful to lower each side of the object to the floor separately. This will avoid trapping your fingers under the weight.
Before attempting to lift any object it is a good idea to warm-up your muscles. Perform some simple stretches beforehand to reduce the risk of injury.
Maximum Weights for Lifting
There are general guidelines – or maximum weights – for men and women. If applying these, no man should attempt to lift anything heavier than 25kg and a woman’s maximum limit is 16kg.
But it’s important to take into account other factors which can change the maximum safe weight. For example, how high an object will need to be lifted.
If lifting above shoulder height men should not lift items heavier than 10kg and women, 7kg. However, this maximum weight drops for objects that need to be held away from the body. 5kg for men and 3kg for women.
Never assume that because a larger workmate can lift an object without injury, that it is a safe weight for you to attempt. Everyone is a different size and we all differ in body strength.
When You Should Take Extra Care:
- Stacking items above shoulder height.
- Carrying items up or down stairs.
- Carrying items for long distances.
- Lifting in a small work space – this could mean you have to twist or stoop.
Things to Check:
- Is the weight of the item within your physical capability?
- Have you been given reasonable rest periods between manual lifting tasks?
- Is there adequate space to lift safely?
- Is lifting fairly shared between employees?
If You are Concerned about Injury
If you believe you are risking injury through manual lifting, ask your employer to undertake a Risk Assessment. It usually takes only a few minutes but it can reduce the chances of injury.
If your employer does not seem concerned about the issue, you could point out that all employers have responsibilities to their workers under manual handling regulations introduced in 1992.)
Finally, if you do suffer an injury or feel ANY pain while lifting or handling an object, stop immediately and speak to your employer. Make sure that the incident is recorded because it could be some hours later before you realize the true extent of the damage.