How to Prevent or Reduce the Chance of Manual Handling Problems

30 May 2018

Manual handling

Manual handling refers to the pushing, pulling, carrying, holding, lifting, lowering of objects, and sometimes working from an awkward position, which the primary cause of back injury in the workplace. Employers are required to carry out risk assessments; teaching and encouraging workers to protect themselves from the risks of manual handling. Affecting workers through a gradual difficulty or an instant cut or fracture, there are a series of tasks that should carried out; from the complete recording of all the work involved to a review of the finished task to expose and prevent any future problems.

Begin by providing important details on all the work covered:

  • What does this task involve?

Accurately recording how the entire activity will be carried out and identifying all the important tasks involved should be completed before work begins. All the participating contractors should be provided with these details from a person who has a complete understanding of all these tasks and the accidents which could occur as a result, for example:

Lifting a collection of boxes holding ceiling tiles from a truck, that are not stored on pallets. They need to be carried out of the truck and brought inside to the back of a large warehouse.   

This provides a basic description of the task involved but the technical details and important figures such as weight and the length of ground to walk are important to reduce the chance of manual handling problems.

  • Being aware of all the technical details involved

All the details and figures which involve manual handling should be carefully recorded, especially if they could result in an accident, for example:

  1. Weight of 45 lbs/20kg for each box
  2. Not confirmed to be set on pallets
  3. Two workers will be involved (one lifting them out of the truck to the other worker, who will lift the boxes up to the end of a large warehouse)
  4. The distance from the truck to the back of the warehouse is 400 ft/122m
  5. 35 of these boxes have been ordered

These technical details should now be used to outline any high-risk activities, which could result in accidents caused by manual handling. If they are compared to the tasks being carried out, the worker in charge of lifting boxes from the truck could bring up the idea of using pallets to prevent the high-risk activity of dropping heavy boxes.  

Manual handling

  • Identify the problems involved or risk factors

Comparing the tasks included to the technical details which have been identified, problems involved and their likelihood can now be figured out. The most important aspects that can make manual handling more dangerous work, especially in the result of a back injury, are:

The load:

  1. Too heavy, e.g. weight of 45 lbs/20kg per box
  2. Too large
  3. Difficult to grasp
  4. Unbalanced or unsteady

The task:

  1. Too strenuous or repetitive, e.g. 35 boxes carried by one person
  2. Involving awkward positions or movement, e.g. lifting a heavy box, by hand down to another worker at a lower position

The environment:

  1. Insufficient space for manual handling process
  2. Uneven, unsteady or slippery floor
  3. Poor lighting

The individual carrying out the job:

  1. Lack of experience or training
  2. Unsuitable age
  3. Lacking physical strength, height or weight needed
  4. Prior history of back disorder

Too much of this frequent lifting up and carrying could affect the spine and the dropping of any boxes of this weight could injure the worker holding it or the one who the box has fallen on. Although these boxes may be easier to handle at a lighter weight, the increase that this could cause in the number of boxes to be carried could have a bad effect. For these reasons it is a better idea to try and avoid the need for these boxes to be manually handled. All these problems should be identified and different ideas for changes; studied and agreed upon.

  • Agree on and correctly implement any beneficial changes

If possible risks cannot be completely prevented, effective methods of reducing the need for manual handling should be discussed and carefully decided on, e.g. finding a way to park the truck near the opposite end of the warehouse, creating a shorter distance to carry the boxes to.

Forming lighter boxes to lift, could help to reduce the chance of injury, but some changes could be made to completely stop the need for manual handling:

  1. Order boxes to be stored on pallets
  2. A tail-lift can now be used to lift these pallets

It is important to include everyone involved in changes believed to be successful, documenting the reasons that they should be made. E.g. dropping the weight of boxes down to 30lbs/13.5kg, but deciding not to make them any smaller than this, so that too many boxes won’t need to be carried.

Do other workers believe that there are more practical methods of dealing with a certain problem and do they have their own ideas of a more effective approach? Although changes such as the use of a tail-lift are likely to reduce the risk of manual handling accidents, it is still important that this new system of work is assessed again from beginning until end, for example:

  1. Tail-lift picks up a pallet with boxes on
  2. Pallet is taken to the storage area and put onto the ground
  3. Boxes are then lifted from each pallet by a worker into their storage area

Any hazards should again be discussed, such as a lack of space to move the machine through which must be cleared out, confirming that anyone using the tail-lift is already skilled in this area.  

To prevent accidents, the most important principles to prevent injury in this case if manual handling is necessary, are:

  1.  Requesting help if work is found to be too strenuous
  2. Avoid lifting loads above 40 lbs/18kg
  3. Feet should stay in a balanced position standing close to the object, knees bent into a comfortable squat, using leg muscles to lift the load
  4. Keep the spine naturally curved
  5. Do not twist at the hips or shoulders while lifting

Manual handling

  • Review and Retrain if Necessary

Reviewing the changes that have been made, and discovering to what extent they have prevented or reduced the risk of certain accidents can display the success of their implementation, e.g. a lighter box has reduced the likelihood of back injury when boxes are lifted from the pallets and the use of a tail-lift has prevented the risk of the box being dropped off the back of the truck from manual handling.

Any other serious changes which appear over time should be discussed and new requirements should be implemented immediately. Regular manual handling safety retraining should take place, carried out by qualified workers if there is a change in the job carried out or any equipment used, but it is also important to make sure that other information has actually been retained and applied to the workplace.

The importance of keeping to these changes should be displayed by all members of staff to other workers. Showing the significance of safety to the entire company makes it more likely for all the workers to comply with the common practice.  


It is important that any task being carried out involving manual handling should be carefully researched, reviewing possible accidents that could occur. Maybe, from an incorrect posture, work that is too strenuous, performed in an insufficient space or other problems that have not been recognized or not had enough work done to prevent them.  

The more hazards to be investigated and dealt with, the less likely certain problems are to occur again or exist at all.

New call-to-action

Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

Show me more!

Take a look at how GOCONTRACTOR can save you thousands of hours