What is Manual Handling? An Employer’s Guide

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Many of us employers will look down our nose at having to arrange yet another manual handling course, as often we fail to understand the ramifications and impact that poor manual handling can have. This guide breaks down manual handling, to better understand what manual handling 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”

Note the reference to load; the load can be any of:

  • An object
  • A person
  • An animal

Essentially, manual handling is seen in almost all facets of our work, if our bodies are moving then it is likely that we are, by definition, supporting or transporting.

Manual handling statistics

With the pure volume of manual handling in our workplaces, there is huge scope for problems; the following data from Unison and the HSE illustrates how significant a problem manual handling really is:

  • “One in three accidents at work are caused by manual handling. Many manual handling incidents cause damage to the back” – Unison
  • “Every year, 300,000 people in the UK suffer from back pain due to manual handling accidents. Damage to the back, neck or spine can lead to extreme pain, temporary incapacity or permanent injury” – Unison
  • In 2019 and 2020, nearly 500,000 cases were reported to the HSE relating to Musculoskeletal disorders, including 93,000 lower limb disorders, 212,000 upper limb or neck and176,000 back issues, with agriculture, forestry and fishing being the biggest culprits – The HSE

The HSE also states that the annual cost of work-related ill health (excluding cancers) is approximately £10.6 billion per year.

  • Despite these alarming figures, it seems that manual handling training is still seen as a chore. – The HSE
  • The Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates that work-related MSDs, including those caused by manual handling, account for around 40% of all work-related ill-health. – the HSE

What do the Manual Handling Operations Regulations Say?

The where and what for in manual handling is determined by The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR 1992) legislation. The MHOR 1992 provides a hierarchy of measures that are to be used 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 a job getting 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 different and 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 is 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 – used to assess the risks posed by lifting, lowering, carrying and team manual handling activities
  • The V-MAC tool – 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 that you need to consider when pushing and pulling

Top tip: Consult your employees

One thing that I find many organisations missing is the importance of consulting their employees; this means making sure that 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
  • Change workplace layout e.g. put materials closer to a workstation
  • Reduce the amount of twisting e.g. re-position materials to minimised 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 is a Good Manual Handling Technique?

The following guidelines are from the HSE’s webpage:

  • Remove 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

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 instruction 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, like TSW Training, you should ask to see CV’s 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?

There is no set guidance on what makes for a suitable manual handling training course. That means there is nothing to say what should be included in the content anything that indicates how long training should be.

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 and relevant examples
  • Related to what employees are expected to do
  • Enough time to cover the required information, and maximise learning retention.

As with the lack of information on how a course should be delivered, there is no particular clarity of what content a course should include. 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 of lifting and handling aids (in context)

Above all, wherever possible the course should include some practical work, allowing a facilitator to observe individual technique 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 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 so as 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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