Manual Handling | It’s more than just picking up a box

Manual handling is defined by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) 1992.

The act describes manual handling as the transporting or supporting of a load by hand or bodily force. This means human effort is involved rather than mechanical handling by devices such as powered hoists.

working at height

However, using a mechanical aid may only reduce (rather than replace) manual handling, as human effort is still required to move the mechanical aid or position the load on the aid. Manual handling includes lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving a load, which can be an object, person or animal. Human effort may also be applied indirectly, such as by hauling on a rope or pulling a lever.

The manual handling regulations were developed to reduce the number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) associated with manual handling. MSDs are said to account for around 40% of all work-related ill health. The Health and Safety Executive reported that 469,000 workers suffered from work-related MSDs in 2017/18 and that 197,000 MSDs were in the upper limbs or neck.

Workers suffered manual-handling-related injuries in 2017/18

Employer Duties around Manual Handling

Under the MHOR, manual handling must be avoided wherever possible. In dealing with the risks from manual handling, there are clearly ranked measures that employers must take:

  1. Avoid hazardous manual handling so far as reasonably practicable;
  2. Assess any hazardous manual handling that cannot be avoided; and
  3. Reduce the risk of injury so far as reasonably practicable.

As an employer, this means you must first try and avoid the need for employees to manually handle loads if there is a risk of them being injured.

For instance, it may be possible to provide some form of mechanical equipment to assist with the movement, such as a trolley or hoist. You must be able to show that ways of avoiding manual handling tasks have been considered.

Questions to ask include:

  • Do loads actually need handling?
  • Could loads be handled in a different way, for example, can a process be carried out without lifting loads?
  • Could mechanical aids be used to remove the manual element?

If manual handling cannot be avoided i.e. it is not reasonably practicable to remove the need for manual handling that poses a risk, then employers must:

  • Conduct thorough risk assessments for the manual handling tasks;
  • Reduce any identified risks as much as possible – to the lowest reasonably practicable level; and
  • Provide affected employees with sufficient training on how to carry out the manual handling as safely as possible.

This could be achieved by:

  • Splitting heavy items into more manageable loads;
  • Providing employees with precise information about the load’s weight, heaviest side and, if asymmetrical, the centre of gravity; and
  • Making sure employees receive training on how to safely lift items and how to use any provided lifting equipment.

Any changes made to work to avoid or reduce manual handling must be monitored to ensure they are working satisfactorily. If not satisfactory, alternatives must be considered.

'Reasonably Practicable' Measures

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut definition of what ‘reasonably practicable’ means.

A judgement will have to be made as to whether something is reasonably practicable. You can do this by weighing up the level of risk posed against the measures you would need to control those risks whereby measures refers to the time, money or trouble involved.

For example, if an employee in performing a manual handling task could potentially seriously damage their back, and the solution is to provide a hand truck, the cost involved would be reasonable. 

However, measures do not need to be taken if grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

reasonably practicable when it comes to manual handling

As an employer, you must first try and avoid the need for employees to manually handle loads if there is a risk of them being injured. 

Risk Assessment

All risk assessments must be carried out by a competent person and cover all manual handling operations and relevant factors. Any risk assessments must be reviewed if it’s suspected they are no longer valid, for example, because the person or process has changed.

The regulations do not set specific requirements such as weight limits. While weight is an important risk factor, there are many other factors that employers need to consider. In assessing the risk of injury from manual handling, Schedule 1 to the regulations provides the following should be taken into account:

  • The manual handling task (does it involve bending, twisting, reaching, moving, etc?);
  • The load to be manually handled – its weight, shape, size and nature;
  • The working environment and equipment provided; and
  • The capability of the individual who is to carry the load.

In turn, the following should be considered:

  • Holding or handling loads away from the body?
  • Awkward movement or posture?
  • Excessive lifting, lowering or carrying distance?
  • Frequent or prolonged physical effort?
  • Repetitive movement?
  • Insufficient recovery time?
  • Heavy, bulky or unwieldy?
  • Unstable, or is there potential for the contents to shift?
  • Slippery, sharp or otherwise potentially damaging to hold?
  • Restricting the handler’s vision when moved?
  • Space confined – preventing good posture?
  • Surface slippery, uneven or unstable?
  • Varied in level, i.e. are there steps or slopes?
  • Poorly lit?
  • Extreme in temperature?
  • Correct for the job?
  • Well maintained?
  • Suited for the floor surface?
  • Require someone of unusual strength or height?
  • Endanger workers who may have a health problem or condition?
  • Require special information or training for its safe performance?


The Appendix to the MHOR contains useful risk assessment filters that will help you decide the right level of detail needed in the risk assessment process. Recognised tools from the HSE’s MSD Toolkit. These include:

  • The MAC Tool (Manual Handling Assessment Charts) to assess lifting, carrying and team handling;
  • The RAPP Tool (Risk Assessment Pushing and Pulling) to assess pushing and pulling operations; and
  • The ART Tool (Assessment of Repetitive Tasks of the Upper Limbs) for tasks requiring repetitive movement of the arms and hands.

Other tools not published by the HSE may also be chosen.

After evaluating the risks, you must decide whether your existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done. Record your findings and tell your employees about them. Review your assessment and, if necessary, revise it.

Manual Handling Policy

Manual handling policies are important in removing, reducing or controlling any risks. Effective policies should set out:

  • What manual handling is;
  • Why manual handling safety is important;
  • Associated hazards; and
  • Employees’ responsibilities.

Under the regulations, employees are required to make full and proper use of any provided work equipment or system. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to co-operate with their employer.

Manual Handling Top Tips

Lifting and moving objects is a common cause of musculoskeletal disorders among workers, particularly when proper lifting procedures and assists are not in place. 

It is therefore important to make sure workers receive training in competent manual handling. Well-designed work stations and tools can also reduce bending and twisting.

To reduce injury:

  • Use mechanical lifting devices or break loads down into smaller manageable units;
  • Have a co-worker help if no mechanical device is available;
  • Avoid awkward twisting and turning postures while carrying loads; and
  • Bring objects up to a comfortable height.

The weight of the load, how far and how often it is to be moved, its stability, shape and size all affect the risks involved. Cramped storage areas, unstable racking, unsafe ladders and poor planning, e.g. putting heavy loads on top shelves, also increases the risk of injury. 

To further limit risks:

  • Arrange storage areas so that employees do not have to reach or twist when lifting loads;
  • Avoid storing heavy or awkward items above shoulder height;
  • Provide safety ladders and steps; and
  • Make sure deliveries are as close as possible to the location where they will be stored or used.

If heavy loads must be manually lifted, make sure they are carried by at least two properly trained people.

Need help with manual handling?

LIVE Q&A | Protecting Employees on Client Sites

Do your staff need to visit client sites?

If so, you should be aware that as an employer, you have a duty of care to take reasonably practicable steps to protect all employees both on and off-site. Join our live session where we will be sharing how EW have prepared for this same situation with our field-based consultants, the lessons learnt and the employment law implications.

22 October 2020 | 14:00 – 14:45

Director of Health & Safety Services

Nick Wilson

Health and safety should be a priority for any business but ensuring compliance can often feel like a daunting task. We’re here to help you turn complex regulations into sensible, proportionate controls.

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