Manual Handling

Amongst the most disabling injuries known (in terms of loss of quality of life) is a back injury, normally caused by manual handling. Some 80 - 90% of people in the UK are suffering from or have suffered from back injuries caused by manually handling. Adding to this toll of suffering is the number of people who have suffered other types of injury caused by manual handling. Many of these are puncture injuries, fractures, crushing injuries etc.

It is in your own interest to know the essentials of safe manual handling and always to think about what you and others are doing, to avoid an incident that may leave you or others with a chronic injury, quite possibly resulting in a life-time of reduced quality of life. To this end we need to look at two different aspects of lifting

How to Lift Properly

Stop and think.

Plan the lift. Where is the load going to be placed? Use appropriate handling aids if possible. Do you need help with the load? Remove obstructions such as discarded wrapping materials. For a long lift - such as floor to shoulder height - consider resting the load mid-way on a table or bench in order to change grip.

Place the feet.

Feet apart, giving a balanced and stable base for lifting (tight skirts and unsuitable footwear make this difficult). Leading leg as far forward as is comfortable.

Adopt a good posture. Bend the knees so that hands when grasping the load are as nearly level with the waist as possible but do not kneel or overflex the knees. Keep the back straight (tucking in the chin helps). Lean forward a little over the load if necessary to get a good grip. Keep shoulders level and facing in the same direction as the hips.

Get a firm grip.

Try to keep the arms within the boundary formed by the legs. The optimum position and nature of the grip depends on the circumstances and individual preference, but it must be secure. A hook grip is less fatiguing than keeping the fingers straight. If it is necessary to vary the grip as the lift proceeds, do this as smoothly as possible.

Don’t jerk.

Carry out the lifting movement slowly, keeping control of the load.

Put down, then adjust.

If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.


Lifting Safely

Lifting and handling safely requires considerably more than knowing how to lift. Training people to lift/handle properly often does not give much protection because they then lift/handle heavier items and consequently lose all the benefit they might have gained by lifting better.

It also should be fairly obvious that the conditions shown in these drawings are not very like those under which ordinary people work. Where’s the clutter? And so on. An important rule about safe lifting is that it is safer when the conditions are as clean, tidy and perfect as possible. THE most important of all is not to manually handle or lift if you can find a way to avoid doing so. Wherever possible use mechanical means, even the humble wheelbarrow or sack truck can greatly reduce the load.

Be aware that it is very tiring to CARRY loads. Much safer to move them using mechanical means. Certainly you should never carry heavy items more than 10 metres, without having planned the lift and rest points (even if only mentally).

A previous back injury predisposes towards further injury. If you have injured your back in the past, you should reduce the weights you consider safe to handle. This will need to take into consideration both the severity of the previous injury and your proneness to back injuries (have you had only one instance some time ago, or are your always “putting your back out” - the latter is much more of a risk factor than the former).

Back to Completed Risk Assessment Forms

Adapted with permission from School of Chemistry, University of Bristol