Manual handling applies to a wide variety of tasks involving the transporting or supporting of a load. This includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying and moving a load using human effort as opposed to mechanical aid.
Although fatal manual handling accidents are rare, manual handling accidents reportable to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations) are still the most common kind of major and over-three-day injuries reported in Britain, accounting for 32% of all such injuries in 2008/09.
In 2008, 43% of workers (Source: Fit3 Workers Survey 2008, HSE) reported manual handling as one of the main hazards affecting them and it was one of the most reported health and safety risks by British employers in 2007, even more than stress and slips and trips (Source: Fit3 Employer Survey 2007, HSE).
Construction, agriculture, haulage and health services are the industry sectors that are most affected by manual handling injuries and ill health. However, it can happen wherever people are at work.
Aside from Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), i.e. back pain, joint injuries and repetitive strain injuries, manual handling can cause other types of injuries and accidents that can affect any part of the body, such as fractures – for instance, if the load falls on a part of the body or the operation causes the individual to fall (see case studies 2 and 3 on page 6). Also, injuries such as cuts and abrasions can be caused by roughness or sharp edges, or burns by extreme hot or cold loads.
Exposure to hazardous substances may occur if there is any leak or spillage or the surface of the load is contaminated.
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) (MHO Regulations) came into force on January 1993 under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to implement a European Directive on the manual handling of loads, with some small changes made in 2002
The MHO Regulations aimed to reduce the risk of injury from manual handling by imposing duties on employers and employees.
This Regulation works closely with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 that requires employers to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all work activities, including manual handling.
Employer and employee duties under the MHO regs
Regulation 4 of the MHO Regulations sets the duties to employers and establishes a clear hierarchy of control measures that the employer must follow, including:
- Avoid, as far as is reasonably practicable, the need for an employee to carry out manual handling operations at work that can cause an injury.
- Assess the risks by considering all the manual handling operations and relevant individual factors.
- Reduce so far as is reasonably practicable the risk of injury from manual handling operations, using mechanical assistance, for example, a sack trolley or hoist. Where this is not reasonably practicable then the load and the working environment should be explored, introducing more sympathetic systems of work.
- Individual capability; the MHO Regulations do not set a specific limit for the weight that an employee can be expected to handle, so physical capabilities will need to be carefully considered.
- The working environment; some areas may be less risky than others – an open warehouse may be a relatively safe area but the likelihood of injury can increase if the area is poorly lit or there are obstacles in the way.
Regulation 5 considers the duties of employees, who must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and of those affected by their activities.
In one year a firm lost 373 working days because of manual handling injuries. This cost about £24,000 in wages paid to absent workers. There were also overtime payments and other costs. The introduction of handling aids, manual handling training and a rehabilitation programme reduced days lost to 74 and wage costs to about £5,000.
Case Study 1
A sports centre supervisor received £50,000 in compensation after he was forced to retire when he injured his back lifting a faulty set of swimming pool steps. David Barber, who had worked at the council-run sports centre for 20 years, said he had complained about the steps a number of times, but had been told that fixing them was not a priority.
Case Study 2
A nursery nurse secured £75,000 in damages from Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust following a serious back injury at work. The accident happened as she was carrying a box through a cupboard door; the contents of the box slipped causing her to fall against the door which sprung back on her. She twisted her back and fell on to equipment in the cupboard.
Case Study 3
East End Foods plc pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of employees under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £25,000 with £28,000 costs following an incident where an employee was injured by a 50kg sack of rice falling onto the back of his neck.
Large consignments of 50kg sacks of basmati rice were routinely being manually offloaded from containers without the use of any mechanical aids.
Access to containers and retrieval of initial sacks of rice was also being carried out by employees being raised and lowered on a pallet placed on the forks of a forklift truck.
The company had not carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for this activity, nor taken appropriate steps to reduce the risk to the lowest level that was reasonably practicable.