Manual handling in the workplace

Manual Handling is often cited as one of the main causes of injuries in the workplace. It applies to a range of activities across most injuries such as:

  • lifting
  • lowering
  • pushing
  • pulling
  • carrying objects including people, animals, boxes and trolleys.

There are many risk factors present during manual handling tasks. These contribute to the likelihood of a worker experiencing an injury. Risk factors include the:

  • working environment
  • physical requirements of the task
  • workers characteristics
  • structure of the work.

Myths and realities

Myth: “There is a ‘silver bullet’ fix.”

Reality: At times you are able to eliminate injury risk through automation of tasks, however in most cases there is not one single control that will remove the risk. You need to consider other risk factors that are present.

Myth: “We must train our workers to lift correctly.”

Reality: Lifting correctly has its biomechanical advantages. However, international research demonstrates that for this to be effective for preventing injury, we need to consider other aspects such as the physical and psychosocial work environment, loads being lifting, repetition and worker participation.

Myth: “We can prevent all low back pain.”

Reality: Acute low back pain is a common problem in everyday society. In a vast majority of people it occurs without a diagnosable injury.

Reduce workers risk of injury

Reducing the risk of injury to your staff is a three step process:

  1. Identify
  2. Assess
  3. Manage

Identify the manual handling injury risks

Consider asking the following questions:

  • What are our manual handling tasks?
  • Where, when and who is at risk of injury? Consider:
  • Involving and discussing with workers
  • Checking claims and accident records
  • Near miss or close call events
  • Reviewing H&S minutes
  • What other risk factors are present and how are people at risk of injury? Risk factors include:
  • Work Organisation – how is work arranged, supervised and carried out?
  • Workplace Layout – what factors are related to workplace design?
  • Psychosocial factors – what stressors influence the way a person interacts and behaves within their social and working environment?
  • Load / Forceful Movements – what are the features of the objects (such as weight) and how much force do workers need to apply to control or move objects?
  • Task Invariability – how much repetition does the task require?
  • Individual Factors – what are the factors that relate to a person that may impact on the task? (such as age, physical fitness, skills and training)
  • Environmental Factors – what are the factors relating to the working environment and conditions?

Assess injury risk from manual handling

There are many tools available internationally. We have, in collaboration with some partners, co-developed the Manual Handling Code of Practice 2001 (external link).

There is also a practical hand held tool, the Risk Reckoner. The risk reckoner will assist you in understanding how much risk of injury workers are exposed to due to:

  • loads
  • forceful movements
  • postures
  • repetitive movements
  • environmental factors.

Order the handheld version or go to our online Risk Reckoner Demo (external link). Please note that this online version is currently unavailable on tablets and mobile phones.

Below are some international tools for addressing manual handling and musculoskeletal risk.

The Health and Safety Executive UK have some tools, available to download, for specific tasks:

  • MAC tool (external link) – lifting, carrying and lowering
  • V-MAC tool (external link) – where load weights vary
  • ART tool (external link) – repetitive upper limb tasks
  • Push / Pull tool (external link) – moving loads by pushing and pulling.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed a lifting equation to identify the recommended weight limit when performing a lifting task, to use it go to Calculating Recommended Weight Limit (RWL) (external link).

Manage or reduce the risk of injury from manual handling

There is no silver bullet to address manual handling with a number of factors present that contribute to injury. If any of these have been identified through the risk assessment please refer to the Preventing and managing discomfort, pain and injury guide (PDF 2.4M).

Industry specific solutions and interventions

The following links provide interventions that have been applied across a number of industries:




Timber processing

In the office

  • Habit at work (external link) – provides you with interactive training on setting up a computer and how to manage discomfort, pain and injury
  • Guidelines for using computers (short and long form – order or download).

Mechanical options

Other resources

General resources are also available on the following links:

  • Work Smart Tips (extremal link) – an online tool to help you develop health and safety tips sheets for your workplace and workers.

For more information on manual handling, the following international web pages are recommended:

Updated: 10 May 2016

Reviewed: 10 May 2016