Manual handling is moving items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling with your body. Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. These injuries are called ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ (MSDs) because they involve damage to the back, joints and tissues in the upper or lower limbs.

Employers must manage risks to their workers from manual handling to comply with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

A hierarchy of measures to reduce the risks of manual handling is set out by the MHOR:

  1. Avoid – investigate all processes so you can eliminate the need for manual handling operations.
  2. Assess – where manual handling can’t be avoided, the task needs to be evaluated.
  3. Reduce – the risk of injury during manual handling operations should be minimised as much as possible.

Key actions to prevent injuries due to manual handling

  • Redesign tasks so hazardous manual handling operations are avoided so far as is reasonably practicable. This could involve rethinking workplace layouts so that there’s no need to move the load, or by automating or mechanising the process, for example.
  • Assess the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling operations that can’t be avoided, taking into account:
    • The nature of the task – the weight of the item; the number of times an individual has to pick up or carry it; the distance and time they carry it for; where they’re picking it up from or putting it down (i.e. from the floor to a shelf above shoulder level), and; any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward posture that might be adopted during the task.
    • The working environmentslips and trips, falling objects and noise are just a few examples of the risks that might need to be considered.
    • Human factors – every worker is different and some are more prone to musculoskeletal problems than others, particularly if they have recent or existing injuries. Also, where there are high workloads, tight deadlines or a lack of control of the work and working methods, how workers might respond and the effect on relationships between supervisors and colleagues must be considered.
  • Include workers during risk assessments and when you’re redesigning tasks. Check they’re aware of their responsibility to use safe systems of work put in place by their employer and to not put others at risk due to their activities.
  • Where a manual handling operation has been avoided with equipment or machinery, check you’re meeting health and safety obligations under the applicable legislation, including the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) and Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER).
  • For workers particularly at risk of MSDs due to manual handling, it may be a good idea to enroll them in a health surveillance programme.

Templates to assist with managing manual handling risks

Additional resources

Frequently asked questions

Find answers to some common queries about health and safety issues and related legislation.

Related topics

Consideration of these topics will either help with managing the issues surrounding manual handling, or should be assessed in a similar fashion.