Manual handling in the workplace

Manual handling—using bodily force to move a load by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling—is conducted throughout many workplaces across the United Kingdom. Although the activity is so common, many workers suffer undue injuries due to improper manual handling.

The risks of manual handling are more complicated than just transporting a large, heavy item. You can inadvertently injure yourself even with a very light item, depending on the number of times you have to pick it up or carry it, the distance you move it, the height from which you pick it up or set it down, and any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward postures you assume while handling it.

Injuries from improper manual handling also tend to negatively affect injured workers’ personal lives. Their injuries can make it difficult to sleep, engage in leisure activities, find future job prospects and may lead to long-term health problems. A single manual handling mishap can cause or agitate a recurring injury.

Follow these simple tips to reduce your risk of suffering a manual handling injury in the workplace:

  • Think before lifting or handling items
  • Adopt a stable position
  • Get a good grip on the object
  • Start in a good posture—avoid stooping or squatting
  • Do not flex your back any further than normal while lifting
  • Keep the load close to your waist
  • Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways
  • Keep your head up when handling
  • Move the load smoothly
  • Do not handle more than you can manage
  • Put the load down before adjusting it

Real-life case study

A warehouse worker in Manchester started to suffer from severe back pain. After seeing his GP, he was told that his pain was the result of repetitive, heavy lifting at his job. His work involved stooping, twisting and holding loads away from his body all day long.

The severity of his back pain forced the worker to stay home for eight weeks. He was unable to enjoy his usual leisure activities and was worried that he would not be able to return to his normal job, for fear of reinjuring himself.

During the worker’s absence, his company installed a hoist that improved the company’s workflow and greatly reduced the manual handling demands of the workers. Along with a sensible plan to manage his back pain, the hoist contributed to the worker’s full recovery and helped prevent a recurrence of the injury.