Manual handling operations are a major cause of workplace accidents and injuries. Most incidents involve sprains or strains, especially to the back, and can lead to long-term discomfort or disability.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (the Regulations) define manual handling as transporting or supporting a load by human effort; this includes lifting, putting down, pushing and pulling a load. Intentional throwing or dropping of an item, and indirect physical operations such as pulling on a rope, are included as long as these are undertaken in order to transport or support loads. A 'load' is any moveable object, for example, a chair, and the definition includes people and animals. Under the Regulations, manual handling operations must be avoided if reasonably practical. If not, a risk assessment must be carried out, and the risk of injury reduced.
Who do the Regulations apply to?
The Regulations apply in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, manual handling is covered by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992, which include similar provisions.
"The Regulations impose duties on employers, employees and the self-employed. Manual handling injuries can occur in all working environments, including offices and shops, not just in high-risk sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction."
The self-employed are expected to take the same steps to safeguard themselves as would be expected of employers protecting their employees. For further information, go to: www.hse.gov.uk/self-employed.
Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of anyone working for their business, and this duty extends to temporary or contract workers. For further information, go to: www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/temporary.htm.
The Regulations cover risks incurred while carrying out manual handling operations. They do not cover risks from toxic or corrosive substances present in or on loads, or that have leaked from or spilled on to them. For these, see BIF 22, A Guide to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).
How to comply with the Regulations?
The Regulations do not prohibit certain manual handling operations, such as those involving loads above a maximum weight; instead, they require anyone within their scope to take the hierarchical steps set out below.
- Employers should avoid hazardous manual handling operations (meaning manual handling operations where there is a risk of injury) in their workplace, if at all possible. This can be done by eliminating or redesigning processes, or by introducing mechanical operations to move or support loads.
- Where such operations cannot be avoided, employers should properly assess the risk of injury involved.
- Following an assessment, measures should be developed and introduced to reduce the risk of injury from the operation to the lowest level reasonably practicable.
- Steps should be taken to provide employees with general information and, where reasonably practicable, information about the weight of each load and the heaviest side of each load where the centre of gravity is not centrally positioned.
- An assessment should be reviewed regularly if there is reason to suspect it is no longer valid, or there has been a significant change in manual handling operations.
The Manual Handling Regulations emphasise the need to consider a range of factors when carrying out risk assessments. These include working environment, task and individual capability, not just the weight of the load.
How to assess manual handling operations
In most cases, the assessment of a manual handling operation can be done in-house by employers. When assessing manual handling operations, it will be useful to consider the following practical tips.