Manual Handling at Work: Employer Guidelines To Manual Handling & UK Regulations

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Manual Handling at Work: Employer Guidelines To Manual Handling & UK Regulations
Manual Handling at Work Employer Guidelines & UK Regulations

Lifting boxes, stacking shelves, or moving items around a workspace are everyday tasks for employees. However, manual handling at work can lead to injuries if not performed correctly and with an understanding of the potential risks involved.

Handling, lifting, or carrying were the second highest cause (17%) of Non-fatal injuries to employees by most common accident kinds (as reported by employers), 2022/23, according to the HSE statistics obtained through RIDDOR.

Manual handling-related injuries account for approximately a third of all injuries reported within the workplace, totalling over 9 million working days lost with an average absence of more than 20 days.

Unlike specific H&S issues that are unique to complex or high-risk operating environments, manual handling is likely to feature in most workplaces. As such, it is one of the H&S hazards that most businesses must account for regarding their H&S management system.

In this guide, we’ll look at manual handling, employers’ legal responsibilities, how to carry out risk assessments, and appropriate control measures to reduce risk in the workplace.

What Is Manual Handling?

Manual Handling is defined as the transporting or supporting of a load (including lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving) by hand or by bodily force.

A load is considered to be a discreet, moveable object, either inanimate or a person. The load only moves because an individual applies the necessary force to make it do so.

If the amount of effort expended to make this load move is excessive (or the cumulative effect of repeating such tasks many times over becomes excessive), then manual handling injuries or harm may be more likely to occur.

An implement, tool, or item of work equipment is not considered to constitute a load whilst being used for its intended purpose (although poor ergonomics or posture whilst using work equipment can still lead to similar ill health situations).

What legal obligations do employers have when it comes to manual handling?

There is a statutory duty to assess the risks to health and safety arising from hazardous manual handling operations undertaken/controlled by an organisation. From a legal perspective, failure to manage manual handling activities could lead to regulatory action, including potential prosecution.

What Are the Manual Handling Risks?

Common Injuries and Disorders

Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD) refer to a number of disorders affecting muscles, bones, tendons, nerves, or skeletal structures of the body which can be caused by or exacerbated by hazardous manual handling activities.

Nearly 50% of all manual handling injuries relate to the back. The spine comprises numerous vertebrae (bones) separated by discs, and these flexible elements ultimately allow the spine to bend and enable an individual to move, turn, and flex.

The discs in the spine cushion and transmit manual handling-related loads between the vertebrae. Still, disc degeneration is common with age, and this alters the response of the disc underloading. As a result, unnatural posture, heavy lifting, and poor seating can all speed up the deterioration of the discs, which can ultimately lead to back pain and injury.

How To Carry Out a Manual Handling Risk Assessment

The TILE Approach to Risk Assessment: A manual handling risk assessment must be completed before conducting any activities involving hazardous manual handling and must consider all factors related to the Task, Individual, Load, and Environment (TILE):

T: The Task

Twisting, stooping, reaching, up-and-down motions, etc., any of the above movements, either individually or in combination, will significantly increase Musculoskeletal stress / WRULD and must be avoided wherever possible with task design. Repetitive and prolonged physical effort must also be considered/avoided wherever possible.

I: The Individual

Consideration must be given to individual capability/limitations that might make certain employees physically unsuited to carry out the task or be at greater risk of harm from hazardous manual handling operations.

L: The Load

Several factors must be taken into account when assessing the load. The weight of the load must be considered, along with the shape, centre of gravity, ease of grip, potential for shifting contents, wet/slippery, sharp, hot/cold etc.

It is essential that the individual conducting manual handling in the workplace checks all the possibilities before undertaking the activity. Unpredictable, unbalanced, or insecure loads are difficult to handle and create a risk to the individual, compounded by poor posture.

E: The Environment

Potential hazards within the immediate area where the load is to be moved must be considered. Space constraints, uneven, slippery, or unstable floors, variations in floor levels, stairs or steps, doors to open, extremely hot, cold, or humid conditions, poor lighting, poor ventilation, gusty winds, clothing or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that restricts movement must all be considered to avoid excess risk of manual handling injuries.

What should you do with the results of the risk assessment?

After obtaining the results, it is essential to implement control measures to mitigate the identified risks.

Operational Control Measures

In terms of operational control measures, the best approach is always to avoid hazardous manual handling activities wherever possible.

Tasks should be (re)designed and undertaken so that manual handling can be avoided entirely or the ergonomic impact minimised.

Redesign the process to avoid the need for storage or to reduce the travel distance the load must be carried. Consider storing heavy items on shelves / racking at waist level to prevent stooping/stretching etc.

Where hazardous manual handling activities cannot be avoided, all manual handling operations must be appropriately risk assessed so that control measures can be implemented to reduce the risk of injury.

Ensure that all relevant individuals have appropriate Manual Handling Training and restrict manual handling activities where employees have certain health conditions or are New & Expectant Mothers / Young Persons.

Mechanical Aids and Equipment

If manual handling cannot be avoided, automation, mechanisation, and the use of mechanical handling lifting aids and other transport equipment should be considered, as these items of work equipment enable bodily forces to be applied more efficiently.

The selection of suitable mechanical handling lifting aids must be informed by the risk assessment associated with the proposed activity.

In all cases, the equipment must be of adequate strength and stability and operated in such a way as to prevent the load from falling or the work equipment striking people or property.

Break the Load Down

Break the load down into smaller units, e.g. removing drawers from a desk before lifting or removing individual packets of printer paper rather than carrying a whole box.

Palletise goods where possible so they can be moved by Pallet or Forklift Trucks.

For awkward loads, hand-holds, indent, or carrying handles may prove useful along with marking the weight and centre of gravity on the packaging.

The rate of manual handling must not be solely determined by the work activity or the work equipment being used, nor must it be imposed by management. The time taken to carry out manual handling tasks should be extended by taking breaks or alternating manual handling with other tasks to reduce the overall risk.

Human Performance Factors

To minimise the likelihood of WRULDs, consideration must be given to human performance factors. Awkward or static postures must be minimised by job design or within established safe work systems.

The frequency and duration of movements, especially highly repetitive movements (e.g. flexing or twisting), must be avoided, and tasks involving excessive force must be reduced.

To reduce the manual handling risks of loads that pose a significant hazard for one person, consideration must be given to using teams of two or more persons. Wherever possible, the amount being handled should be reduced, or the load should split into smaller loads without increasing lifting/handling frequency to the point that increased fatigue results from that change.

Workstation Design and Ergonomics

Workstations should be designed to fit a wide range of employees according to their physical size and capabilities. Increasing workstation adjustability will likely minimise the negative ergonomic impact of associated manual handling activities and must be considered within any design or refurbishment activities.

Ensure that workplaces are tidy to eliminate trip hazards and that suitable lighting / sound flooring is present in all areas where manual handling activities might take place.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The nature of the load or the environment may require personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, overalls, or safety footwear.

PPE must fit well and not interfere with any handling operations. For example, gloves should not interfere with manual dexterity, and footwear should have non-slip soles.

What happens if employers don’t carry out a manual handling risk assessment?

Failure to carry out a risk assessment could mean your employees may suffer manual handling injuries.

If an injury occurs because of inadequate training or safety measures, employers could be held accountable for violating Health & Safety regulations. In such instances, employers might be subject to legal action, financial penalties, or, depending on the severity of the injuries, even a prison sentence.


By following proper procedures and implementing appropriate measures, employers can significantly reduce the risk of manual handling injuries in the workplace, ensuring the health and safety of their employees.

If you have any questions on anything we’ve discussed, please get in touch.

Get H&S Support on manual handling and risk assessments with Avensure

As an employer, you have a duty of care to keep your employees safe at all times. So, you must take the best safety measures regarding manual handling.

Regularly conducting manual handling risk assessment control measures and introducing protective measures whenever feasible is essential. Neglecting the health and safety of your employees can result in severe consequences, such as facing negligence claims and substantial fines.

Injury from manual handling is a significant and avoidable cost to individuals and businesses.

For around-the-clock Health & Safety guidance every day of the year, Avensure is here to assist. Are you interested in learning more? Reach out to us today: Avensure Contact!