What is Manual Handling?

Manual handling is any transporting or supporting of a load by one or more workers. It includes the following activities: lifting, holding, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving of a load. The load can be an animate (people or animals) or inanimate (boxes, tools etc) object.

The regulations that surround manual handling describe a manual handling operation as:

“Any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force.”

Manual Handling Costs

The HSE recently released their workplace health an safety statistics for work place injury and illness in Great Britain. According to their current statistics 0.5 million workers suffering from work related musculoskeletal disorders (new or longstanding) in 2015/16
Source: Estimates based on self-reports from the Labour Force Survey

The Annual costs of workplace injury in 2014/15 was a massive 4.8 Billion.

Potential costs to the employer

These costs, other than sick pay and associated benefits, if the employer pays them, may include.

  • A disruption to normal work activities

  • Time involved in accident investigation and follow up actions

  • Lost production or reduce performance due to sickness absence

  • Temporary/ agency staff to replace the injured party

  • Retraining of new staff

  • Reduce staff morale

  • Strain on employees remaining at work due to staff shortages

  • Loss of trained and experienced staff

  • Prosecution and fines if there was a failure to comply with the law

  • Legal fees

  • Compensation claims

  • An increase in insurance claims

  • Loss of reputation and therefore reduce business

You will see that failing to manage manual handling within the workplace can be much more costly then you first think.


Potential Costs to the employee

Personal injury affects people physically but it can also have a major impact on their home and social life. Therefore, the cost of a manual handling injury personally may include:

  • Pain, discomfort and even disability

  • Loss of earnings, employment and even a career

  • Psychological Illness

  • Strain on family life and social life by and disability or limitations

  • Reduce quality of life

Manual Handling related injuries


Muscular-skeletal disorders and injuries are becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Injuries and conditions can occur suddenly (acute) or over a period of time (chronic).

 Possible acute causes of injury

  • Activities requiring exertion, effort or force including:

  • Lifting and lowering

  • Pushing and Pulling

  • Carrying

  • Work involving sudden movements or movements which are hard to control

  • Twisting, bending, reaching and stooping, particularly while lifting

Possible Chronic causes of injury

  • Poor Posture

  • Repetitive actions and movements

  • Activities that require a hard grip for long periods of time

  • Activities where a long time is spent in the same position

  • Long-term neglect of the back by poor posture or handling techniques


Injuries to the spine, spinal cord and nerves

Back Pain is a very common condition.

Causes of back pain:


  • Not lifting correctly is the most common

  • Poor posture

  • Overweight and obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Aging and Disease

  • Poor Physical Condition

As the lower back (lumber) supports a great proportion of the body this area is a common site for the development of back pain which can develop from damage and injury to structures in the lower back including:

  • Bones and their joints

  • Discs

  • Muscles

  • Ligaments

  • Tendons

Neck Pain is often caused by straining of the muscles in the neck by lifting something on one side such as a heavy bag or case. Pain and tingling sensations can sometimes be felt down one

 arm if the nerves in the neck are affected.

Injuries to the back usually result:

  • From an accident such as a slip, trip or fall or even a road accident

  • Acutely (suddenly) from increased exertion on an area of the back which is more than it can cope with

  • Chronically (over a period of time) such as repeated misuse where it has been unable to repair itself.

Due to the number of bones in the back there are many joints where the bones meet each other. Inappropriate lifting techniques even of light objects can lead to these joints becoming locked or damaged causing pain and discomfort.


Injuries to discs

An injury to the intervertebral disc is sometimes referred to as:

  • Slipped Disc

  • A ruptured Disc

  • A Herniated Disc

  • A Prolapsed Disc

A prolapsed disc is when the nucleus of the disc breaks through the annulus. The annulus will then bulge or even break open, or rupture. The annulus may have become weakened progressively over time resulting in its loss of normal structure and function. Factors contributing to the weakness include:

  • General wear and tear on the spine over a period of time

  • Natural aging of the body and its structures

  • Smoking

  • Lack of exercise

Pain can result in the bulging disc pressing on the surrounding nerves that leave the spine to branch off to the rest of the body this pain can radiate down the limbs depending on the level of the spine that has been affective. A prolapsed disc commonly occurs in the lumber region because it carries most of the body weight and is more vulnerable. An injury at this level of the spine is likely to press on nerves leading to pain radiating down into the buttocks and/or leg known as Sciatica.


The sciatic nerves are the longest nerves in the body and run down from each side of the lowe

r back through the buttock and down each leg to the foot. The following may be present with sciatica:

  • Pain from the back, into a buttock, down one leg and can even radiate into a foot or the toes sometimes referred to as a “shooting pain”. This pain can be constant

  • Burning, Numbness and a tingling sensation down the leg

  • Difficulty in moving a leg

Sprains and Strains

A sprain involves an injury to a ligament at or near a joint because it has been wrenched or

torn. A strain involves an injury of a muscle or tendon resulting from being overstretched or torn by a sudden or violent movement.

Muscles become weak if they are neglected by lack of exercise; this puts you more at risk of a muscular injury. When injured muscles tighten up they can go into spasm causing pain.

Muscle strain of the back can occur from excessive stress such as sudden lifting or twisting movements, continuous misuse, poor posture or poor manual handling techniques. It can cause pain, difficulty moving and even breathing.


A hernia can occur as a direct result of lifting something that is too heavy. A strain is placed on the abdomen area which creates a rupture and protrusion of the intestine.

Cuts, bruises and abrasions

Cuts, bruises and abrasions can occur from lifting and handling loads that are awkward, not smooth and may have unprotected edges and corners. The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be required if lifting such loads.


A fracture is a break or crack in the bone which may result from dropping a load onto a part of the body.

Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULDs)

WRULD is a term used to describe a wide range of muscular- skeletal disorders affecting the upper limbs including the arms, shoulders, hands and fingers.

These disorders are often associated with manual handling tasks. WRULDs commonly occur when someone is repeatedly undertaking a manual handling operation over a period of time ranging from hours to years. The probability of developing WRULD is increased by:

  • Poor posture

  • Repetitive movements particularly in the same position

  • Activities leading to vibration of the hand and arm

  • Colder working environments

Reducing risk of injury

Factors placing people at higher risk of injury:

  • Pregnancy –If you are pregnant it is recommended that you notify your employer who should refer to risk assessments to decide on what action to take. This may involve suspending you from manual handling activities.

  • History of injury – those who have suffered from previous manual handling injury or back injury become more vulnerable to reoccurrence.

  • Illness – people who are presently experiencing or recovering from illness

  • Stress

  • General fitness – people who are generally unfit leads to loss of strength and flexibility.

  • Diet – being overweight affects blood pressure and is a contributing factor to the development of heart disease. It also increases the stress of the curve of the lumber region and weakens the stomach muscles creating a further risk of back pain and hernias.

  • New or inexperienced staff

  • Peer Pressure – when people undertake unsafe manual handling operations due to persuasion or harassment.

  • Inadequate rest – particularly those who are fatigued and night workers. If you are tired then the muscles will be and will not function fully.


  • Smoking and alcohol consumption

  • Working Conditions – shortcuts are sometimes taken because of demands resulting in doing something manually as it appears to be quicker resulting in potential injury

  • Ageing – Structure of the bones change, discs become less flexible reducing their efficiency as shock absorbers.


Actions that increase the risk of injury


Certain moving and handling actions have a greater risk of causing injury. These may include:

  • Lifting from the floor or from above head height

  • Moving items with arms away from the body

  • Twisting and awkward body posture

  • Bending and reaching

  • Twisting, particularly when supporting a load

  • Jerking movements while lifting

Examples of risk factors

There are a number of factors relating to manual handling that increase the risk of injury:

  • Activities which create shortness of breath, sweating and fatigue

  • Handling loads (including people) that are awkward and heavy and difficult to hold

  • Manual work

  • Poor posture such as slouching

  • Cramped working conditions

  • Activities requiring repetition

  • Where force is required during manual handling such as moving something heavy.

Personal Care during Manual Handling

  • Avoid Manual Handling where possible

  • If the load is too heavy – do not move it at all

  • Use correct manual handling techniques

  • Familiarise yourself with risk assessments and any other relevant information and advice regarding specific manual handling activities

  • Always be aware of the posture that you are working in ensure that you are comfortable. Avoid being in one position for prolonged periods of time.

  • Avoid Twisting

  • Avoid Bending, stooping and reaching

  • Gently stretch and warm up before and after manual handling activities.

  • Do not exceed your own capabilities when lifting and handling

  • Wear sensible footwear that will provide a firm base and adequate grip

  • Wear suitable clothing that will not restrict movement and will not prevent you from holding a load close to the body.


In order to maintain a good posture the main aim is to keep the spine in its natural alignment with the limbs comfortably positioned. Remember that the spine has three natural curves which should be maintained bending and twisting can place excessive strain on the back muscles, ligaments and discs of the back.

Poor posture can result in stresses and strains on the body.

Posture when standing:

  • Wear sensible shoes. Avoid high heels and platform shoes

  • Avoid standing in the same position for a long period of time. Change position at least every 10 minutes

  • Remain flexible. Do not lock your knees in position

  • If you are working whilst standing aim to have the work at a comfortable height, which will avoid leaning or stooping

  • Do not place your weight on one side of your body. Distribute the weight through both feet.

  • Avoid keeping your feet together as this will affect stability. Create a firm stable base with your feet shoulder width apart.

  • Maintain your spinal Curves.

Sitting at a desk or workstation

  • Use an upright chair that supports your back. If the chair is not designed to support the lumbar region of your back then place a small cushion or folded towel in this area to give support.

  • Keep your head up and your neck straight. Do not lean towards the work

  • Keep your shoulders back and avoid hunching forwards

  • Push your bottom right to the back of the chair

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor but ensure that there is not excessive pressure on the underside of the thighs and the back of the knees

  • The knees should be at a right angle and level with your hips

  • Sit evenly on the chair and do not lean to one side

  • Make sure that there is enough space for you to change positions

  • Change positions and stretch regularly