Manual handling injuries account for over a third of all accidents reported to the enforcing authorities each year. Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) the employer has legal duties to:
- avoid the need to carry out manual handling operations wherever possible;
- if manual handling cannot be avoided the task should be automated or mechanised in some way, in order to reduce the amount of manual handling required;
- if manual handling cannot be avoided, an employer must assess the risks involved with the operations and take steps to avoid them.
This assessment is necessary to ensure that employees do not suffer injuries from manual handling tasks and it is important to note that there is no maximum weight given for manual handling tasks.
Most of the assessments can be done in house and will just require a few minutes’ observation to identify ways to make the activity less hazardous, i.e. less physically demanding.
When making these observations employees should be consulted, as more often than not they are aware of what the problems are and the easiest ways of avoiding them. The overall responsibility for suitable assessments remains with the employer.
A general assessment of risk, as required by Regulation 3(1) of the Management Regulations may indicate the possibility of injury from manual handling operations; in this case a more specific assessment should be carried out. How detailed this further assessment needs to be will depend on the circumstances. In general, the significant findings of the assessment should be recorded and the record kept, readily accessible, as long as it remains relevant.
Assessments need not be recorded if:
- it could be easily repeated and explained at any time because it is simple and obvious
- the manual handling operations are of low risk, only going to last a very short time and the time taken to record the assessment would be disproportionate.
When making a more detailed assessment the following categories should be considered:
The INDIVIDUAL CAPABILITY
The working ENVIRONMENT
(These can be easily remembered by the acronym TILE)
In many cases manual handling operations will involve some twisting, i.e. moving the upper body while keeping the feet static. The combination of twisting and lifting and twisting, stooping and lifting are particularly stressful on the back. Where the handling involves twisting and turning then a detailed assessment should normally be made.
However if the operation is:
- relatively infrequent (up to approximately 30 operations per hour or one lift every two minutes); and there are no other posture problems;
- then the guideline figures in the relevant part of this filter can be used, but with a suitable reduction according to the amount the handler twists to the side during the operation.
As a rough guide:
- Twisting beyond 45º reduce the weight by 10%
- Twisting beyond 90º reduce the weight by 20%
The guideline figures for lifting and lowering apply to carrying operations where the load is:
- held against the body;
- carried no further than about 10 m without resting.
A more detailed assessment should be made for all carrying operations if the load is carried over a longer distance without resting or the hands are below knuckle height or above elbow height.
Pushing and Pulling
For pushing and pulling operations (whether the load is slid, rolled or supported on wheels) the guideline figures (below) assume the force is applied with the hands, between knuckle and shoulder height. It is also assumed that the distance involved is no more than about 20 m. If these assumptions are not met, a more detailed risk assessment is required.
Force required to stop or start the load 20Kg 15Kg
Sustained force to keep the load in motion 10Kg 7Kg
There is no specific limit to the distance over which the load is pushed or pulled as long as there are adequate opportunities for rest or recovery.
Reviewing the assessment
The assessment should be kept up to date. It should be reviewed if new information comes to light or if there has been a change in the manual handling operations.
The assessment may also need to be reviewed if an injury occurs, or an employee becomes more vulnerable to risk due to illness, or the onset of disability or pregnancy.
An employer must also provide training regarding manual handling. This should include manual handling risk factors and how injuries occur, good handling technique, appropriate safe systems of work, use of mechanical aids.
Remember that training by itself cannot overcome:
- a lack of mechanical aids
- unsuitable loads
- poor working conditions.
- Consider avoiding the need for manual handling by re-engineering the process.
- Consider reducing the risk by minimising or reducing the load/task.
- Appoint persons who have been adequately trained for manual handling assessments, and ensure that all work activities where manual handling cannot be avoided are adequately assessed.
- Conduct manual handling assessments of work activities taking into account the task, the individual the load, and the environment – TILE!
- Provide handling aids and equipment.
- Train staff and maintain training records.
- Record the assessment and keep it up to date. Review the assessment if new information comes to light or if a change in manual handling operations occurs.