The health and safety at work act 1974 requires employers to assess the risks associated with lifting and carrying activities in the workplace.
This means that employers must provide workers with training and equipment to minimise the risk of injuries or accidents occurring.
In line with legislation, specific duties are set out for employers and employees concerning manual handling in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. The regulations provide guidance on how to avoid, assess and reduce the risk of injury from manual handling.
Employers have a duty of care to take relevant measures to deal with manual handling risks. These are:
- Avoid any hazardous manual handling activities as far as it is reasonably practical.
- Assess any hazardous manual handling operations if it cannot be avoided.
- Reduce the risk of injury as far as it is reasonably practical.
Employees also have obligations to take reasonable care to protect their health and safety and others affected by their duties. These are:
- Follow the safe systems of work set out by the employer.
- Using the work equipment provided by the employer
- Co-operate and communicate with any handling activities
- Take reasonable care to ensure that the activities do not put themselves or others at risk.
Applying and promoting smart lifting techniques not only safeguards employees from the danger of back sprains, muscle pulls, and other injuries, but ensures their ongoing physical well-being so they can remain as active and mobile as possible.
Keeping Workers Safe
In 2022 the HSE reported its annual summary for statistics for Great Brittan, gathered by The Labour Force Survey (LFS).
The results showed that nearly 500,000 workers reported suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder, with almost 140,000 of these being new cases.
This resulted in nearly 7.3 million working days lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Among these statistics, it was reported that:
- 42% of cases were due to back disorders.
- 37% were upper limb or neck-related disorders.
- 21% were lower limb-related disorders.
Below are some of the standard procedures to undertake when moving any load.
- To reduce the physical effort needed when moving heavier or awkward loads, employ mechanical means such as hand trucks and pushcarts to avoid strain on muscles, discs and vertebrae.
- Whenever manual lifting is unavoidable, ensure that the objects are placed at a “power zone” height—approximating mid-thigh to mid-chest of the individual executing the lift for optimal safety and efficiency.
- Workers should ensure loads are as close to their body as possible and avoid twisting while lifting, carrying or setting down a load.
- To prevent strain and injury, always bend from the knees instead of the hips when lifting or reaching for something.
- Encourage workers to ask for help and never attempt to move something that they don’t feel comfortable with.
- Plan ahead for all parts of the lift: lifting, carrying and setting down.
- A good grip is important. If the item to be moved doesn’t have any suitable handles, there are other methods you can try; like placing it in a box with good grips or adding it to a trolley.
- Use appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves with a strong grip and steel-toed boots when necessary.
- Incorporate regular rest periods and job-swapping to reduce strain from frequent or heavy lifting.
Preparing Employees To Lift
There are five fundamental principles to avoiding manual handling injuries & disorders.
Plan – Before anyone lifts or carries anything, it is essential to plan out the lift.
- Lifters should ask themselves; how much the item weighs, whether it is possible for them to lift alone, could a mechanical device such as a trolley be used to help, can the load be broken up into smaller loads.
- The route that the item needs to be moved through should be assessed before lifting begins. Check for doors, steps, slippery surfaces, overhands, stairways, uneven surfaces etc.
- Does the object have an appropriate grip? Are gloves or other safety equipment needed to handle it?
- Does this task require a written risk assessment?
Position – When lifting and carrying a load, it is imperative to use the right technique.
- Keep the back in a neutral position (in line with the spine), and bend from the knees, not from the waist or back.
- The load should be kept as close to the body as possible with arms tucked in
- Feet should be apart at shoulder width for better balance and stability when lifting and abdominal muscles tightened.
- The object should be kept close to the body, hold it firmly and keep a good grip so that it cannot slip from their hands.
- Lift using the legs, not the backs, to reduce strain and injury.
- Avoid twisting when lifting or carrying a load and take regular rest periods during tasks where frequent heavy lifting.
- Looking ahead rather than down will also help with keeping a straight posture while lifting.
- Hold on tightly to whatever you’re lifting and remember to move in a slow, steady motion instead of abruptly jerking or twisting.
- If it’s too heavy for one person alone, seek help from someone else!
Proceed – When carrying heavy items.
- Keep the load as close to their bodies as possible with their arms tucked in tight.
- Take short steps and use their leg muscles to move rather than relying on the back or arm strength.
- Also, they should avoid turning or twisting while moving a load to maintain good posture and balance. If they get tired when lifting, they should set the item down and rest.
Place – When setting down a load,
- The same techniques as when lifting in reverse by keeping their back straight and bending from the knees.
- Keep tight stomach muscles and a straight posture with the head up high throughout.
- Do not forget to make sure that the item is placed in a safe position to avoid slipping or falling.
Avoid Awkward Postures
It’s important to ensure employees are using the correct posture when lifting and that you have systems in place that aid proper storage of any items that need to be lifted. Doing this will help minimise the chance of employees being injured or stock/equipment being damaged.
Bending or hunching over when lifting is not a good idea. This motion means the weight of the object is further away from the body and increases the stress on your lower back. The same principle applies to carrying loads on one shoulder or resting on a hip – pressure on the spine is imbalanced.
Holding Objects For Long Periods Or Regularly Lifting
If employees are required to hold objects for a long period, their risk of back and shoulder injury is increased. Additionally, if lifting tasks are repeated regularly without a chance for their bodies to rest and recover, injury and muscle fatigue are more likely to occur.
Try to plan so that you can minimise the length of time anyone will be required to hold or lift. This could include having more staff available to share the load and adding rest time into manual duties.
Extreme temperatures and low visibility can affect an employee’s ability to lift and handle objects safely. For example, in extremely cold temperatures, muscle flexibility reduces, and in extreme heat, heat stress and excessive sweating can occur. Visibility is another environmental factor to consider as areas with low lighting can also lead to difficulties in safe manual handling.
Try to take a proactive stance before these factors become an issue by providing employees with water to avoid dehydration, encouraging work during daylight hours, and ensuring proper lighting, heating and cooling systems are installed in all working areas.
When objects are oddly shaped or have no handles, there is a higher chance of injury occurring or the object being dropped. Try to ensure that objects that will be manually lifted have large enough handholds for a gloved hand to use.
Ensure employees wear well-fitting protective equipment such as gloves with good grip to avoid finger injuries and contact stress when lifting objects. Suction devices are a handy tool for gripping junction boxes and any other smooth, flat materials without handholds, and if you’re looking for something to provide a temporary handle, there’s a variety of tools available.
Lifting heavy objects incorrectly or attempting to carry excessively large and weighty loads can lead to injury, with sprains and strains being the most common associated with manual handling roles.
As Employers have a legal responsibility and duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work, business owners must teach and promote proper lifting technique, provide adequate equipment to assist with heavy loads, and ensure anyone required to lift at work is given full and proper training that is regularly refreshed.