An Employer’s Guide To Manual Handling Training

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A manual handling training course can educate your team on the importance of good practice when it comes to transporting loads in the workplace. 

It can also help them understand the impact that poor manual handling can have.

This guide breaks down manual handling, to better understand what it is, how it affects individuals and organisations, and what we should look for in a good manual handling training course.

What is Manual Handling?

The HSE defines manual handling as “… any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force.”

The load can be:

  • An object
  • A person
  • An animal

Manual handling is seen in almost all facets of our work. If our bodies are moving, we are likely to be supporting or transporting.

Why Is It Important? 

In 2020/21, the HSE found there were 470,000 cases of musculoskeletal disorders, with upper limbs and neck issues commandeering almost half of those injuries. 

We need to step up to protect the workforce and prevent debilitating injuries from occurring. 

Despite these alarming figures, some can see manual handling training as a chore.

What Are The Manual Handling Operations Regulations?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR 1992) provide a hierarchy of measures for controlling the associated risks. These are:

  1. Avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable
  2. Assess hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
  3. Reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable

This tells us that when dealing with manual handling in the workplace, we should take every reasonable step to avoid the risk of injury. If we are unable to avoid the task and the associated risk (i.e. lifting a piece of equipment is essential to getting a job done, with no alternative) then we should risk assess the task. Once the manual handling risk assessment is complete, we should seek to reduce the risk of injury as far as is reasonable.

Manual Handling Regulations In Practice (Avoid, Assess and Reduce)

Avoid The Need For Hazardous Manual Handling

This step is an easy one to get our heads around as there are some questions we should ask ourselves:

  • Does this object/person/animal need to be moved?
  • Can we redesign a work area or task so that the work is done in a safer way?
  • Can we automate the task in some way?

Remember, the decision-making process is predicated on that magical phrase, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, which means we consider the degree of risk balanced against the time, trouble, and cost of the measures being implemented to avoid the risk. For example, there may well be a way to automate a task to avoid the risk however, the automation could be very expensive, and more than the company can ‘reasonably’ afford.

When you have exhausted all ‘avoidance avenues’, you can move on to the next stage, because this manual handling task must get done and there is no way to avoid it.

Assess The Risk Of Injury

When you cannot avoid the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling, you must move on to completing a manual handling risk assessment; this will help you determine what health and safety measures you can put in place to manage the risks involved.

In the risk assessment, we talk about the Task, Individual, Load, and Environment (T.I.L.E), also known as the four key areas of manual handling.

The HSE have some comprehensive toolkits available to help employers complete their risk assessments. The tools are split by the type of task, with some tasks needing you to consider using more than one tool. The tools available include:

  • The MAC tool – is used to assess the risks posed by lifting, lowering, carrying, and team manual handling activities
  • The V-MAC tool – is used with the MAC tool to assess manual handling operations where the load weights are variable
  • The ART tool – to help assess repetitive tasks involving the upper limbs
  • The RAPP tool – to take you through the issues you need to consider when pushing and pulling

Top Tip: Consult Your Employees

One thing I find many organisations missing is the importance of consulting their employees; this means making sure your employees are fully involved in the risk assessment process, using their knowledge and experience to inform a full and detailed assessment of risk. Who better to understand the risks than the people doing the job?

Reduce The Risk Of Injury

Through the risk assessment process, you will uncover ways and means (controls) to reduce the risk of injury. There are many ways to reduce risk, here are just some of them:

  • Using a lifting aid e.g. a hoist
  • Changing workplace layout e.g. putting materials closer to a workstation
  • Reducing the amount of twisting e.g. re-position materials to minimise twisting
  • Avoid lifting from floor level or above shoulder height, especially heavy loads e.g. introduce shelving at the appropriate height

For more guidance, look to page 12 of HSE’s ‘Manual handling at work: A brief guide’ document. The guide is based on TILE, covering ways to reduce risk by focusing on:

  • The task itself
  • The individual’s capacity for handling the load
  • The load being handled
  • The working environment

Top Tip: Don’t Forget Introduced Risks From Control Measures

When introducing controls such as automation or mechanical intervention, make sure you consider any new risks those things introduce (for example, any risk of injury from the machine/mechanical aid).

What Are The Principles Of Moving And Handling? 

There are a few principles to bear in mind whenever you’re moving or handling heavy loads. The HSE recommends a good technique:

  • Removing obstructions from the route.
  • For a long lift, plan to rest the load midway on a table or bench to change grip.
  • Keep the load close to the waist. The load should be kept close to the body for as long as possible while lifting.
  • Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body.
  • Adopt a stable position and make sure your feet are apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance

What Are The Dangers Of Malpractice? 

If your team doesn’t take good care while carrying out any manual handling activities, they could injure themselves, or hurt others around them. 

Workplace injuries can see an employer paying out for sick days, and sometimes, compensation to their team. 

The right training is imperative to ensuring everyone stays happy and healthy in the workplace. 

Employer’s Guide to Manual Handling Training

In section 2 of the Health and Safety At Work Act and regulations 10 and 13 of the Management Regulations, employers are required to provide their employees with health and safety information and training.

In addition, organisations should complement this general training with more targeted learning on the risks of injury and preventative measures associated with manual handling.

It is proven that a person’s risk of manual handling injury is greatly increased if they have not been provided with the training and information required for them to work safely. For this reason, all training and information should be in the context of the organisation and the specific manual handling tasks that employees must undertake.

For example, employees should be made aware of the particular details of a task and guided through the system of work that has been designed to ensure safe manual handling. Employees should be provided with instructions on how to use any adopted lifting and handling aids safely.

Much like consultation during the risk assessment stage, an employer should consult with employees and their representatives when designing and deploying manual handling training. The quality of that training should be evaluated and where possible the outcomes monitored. This can be done through post-training knowledge assessments i.e. quizzes, or practical manual handling techniques, observing learners applying their learning to the job.

When using their own trainers, employers should undertake reasonable checks to provide assurances that they are competent and able to deliver the training that is required by the organisation. Similarly, if using an external training provider, you should ask to see CVs of any trainers to determine their competence levels. Keep a record of all checks to evidence your due diligence.

Unfortunately, training is not a silver bullet; by investing in a training course an employer is taking an important step, but this alone is not going to guarantee a workplace safe from manual handling injuries. Every organisation must start by designing systems of work that make a task as safe as reasonably practicable, focusing on improving the task, the working environment, and reducing the load weight, as appropriate.

What Makes A Good Manual Handling Training Course?

The key principle in any health and safety training is that courses should be suitable or tailored to the task, individual, load, and environment concerned. Whoever is delivering the training should provide you with a course that is:

  • Up to date, with relevant examples
  • Related to what employees are expected to do
  • Given enough time to cover the required information, and maximise learning retention.

Given the regulations and information provided in guidance notes from the HSE, we recommend that a training course includes the following content as a minimum:

  • Manual handling risk factors and how injuries can occur (in context)
  • Guidance on how to stay safe when manual handling
  • Principles and practice of good handling technique
  • An understanding of safe systems of work relevant to the worker’s tasks and environment
  • How to safely use lifting and handling aids (in context)

Above all, wherever possible, the course should include some practical work, allowing a facilitator to observe individual techniques and make adjustments to ensure learners are working safely.

How Often Should Manual Handling Training Be Refreshed?

We recommend that manual handling refresher training is conducted at least every two years for all individuals who have an involvement in manual handling. In addition to this, training should be considered when:

  • There is a change in the task, individual, load, or environment
  • A new employee starts in the organisation (before starting the work)
  • Training is proven to have been ineffective, signalled by the increasing prevalence of near-misses, injury, sickness, and absence

An organisation should conduct a full training needs analysis using information from manual handling risk assessments. A training plan should be implemented that ensures all employees are provided with the information and training they need to complete their work safely.

How To Keep Manual Handling Training Records

Training records should be kept, and expiry dates set to provide reminders of when manual handling refresher training is needed.

A training record should include the name of the person who has received training, the date on which the training was carried out, and a description of the content covered during the course. This will all help in the consistent management of training, as required by the MHOR 1992 regulations.

Good training programmes should start from the top; senior employees, including managers, supervisors, and team leaders should all undertake the same training to understand what is being taught. This ensures consistent expectations throughout an organisation and allows management to take an active role in managing the safety of those for whom they are responsible.

The manual handling courses provided by TSW are designed for employees at any level and in any sector. The course can be tailored to your organisation, delivered online, or on-site.

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Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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