Mechanical Handling Equipment & Mechanical Lifting Aids: An Employer How to Guide

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Mechanical Handling Equipment & Mechanical Lifting Aids: An Employer How to Guide
Manual Handling at Work Employer Guidelines & UK Regulations

Manual handling injuries are among the most commonly sustained by people at work, and mechanical handling aids are often used to help prevent such injuries as these items of work equipment enable bodily forces to be applied more efficiently.

However, without proper or effective workplace controls, lifting, and manual lifting equipment activities can, and do, result in serious harm to personnel, damage to plant, equipment or the environment, and business interruption.

There are many types of mechanical lifting aids available:

  • Forklift Trucks (FLT): There are several designs of lift trucks, such as counter-balanced forklift trucks, industrial reach trucks, telescopic materials handlers, and side-loading lift trucks.
  • Counter-balanced Forklift Trucks: Forklift trucks can be powered by battery, petrol, diesel, or LPG. These lifting aids in the workplace carry the load in the front of the vehicle, which is counter-balanced by the truck’s weight over the rear wheels. They can be either rider or pedestrian-controlled.
  • Pedestrian-operated Stacking Trucks: This piece of manual handling equipment is commonly used to move pallets and heavy machinery, as they cannot be picked up directly from the floor. Power-operated stackers can be pedestrian or rider-controlled and work vertically and horizontally – they can pick up pallets directly from the floor.
  • Reach Trucks:  These trucks enable the load to be retracted within the wheelbase, thereby minimising the overall working length to allow greater manoeuvrability and (for example) reduced aisle widths. They are rider-operated.
  • Narrow Aisle Trucks: These mechanical lifting aids are rider-operated and can operate in reduced aisle widths, but they differ from reach trucks in that the truck’s base does not turn within the working aisle.
  • Order Pickers: Often known as ‘cherry pickers’, they incorporate a protected working platform above the lift forks and can be used in narrow aisles. This enables the operator to select goods (‘pick’) from racking above floor level or place them onto racks. They can also deposit the picked items on the lift truck, leading to the additional hazard of falling goods as the picker moves along.

All of the manual handling lifting devices mentioned above are considered to be items of Work Equipment as well as items of Lifting Equipment.

A risk assessment must be completed before conducting any activities involving lifting aids in the workplace, and all factors relating to the proposed activity, lifting equipment hazards, the individual operator, and the local operating environment must be considered.

How to Choose the Right Manual Lifting Equipment for Your Workplace

Work equipment MUST be suitable for the task and appropriately maintained.

All workplaces must have an adequate supply of potable drinking water. Potable drinking water facilities must be regularly maintained and kept clean to ensure potable water quality and hygiene.

  • Users must be given appropriate operational and safety information
  • All items of work equipment must be adequately guarded
  • Machines must have adequate stop controls that are readily identifiable
  • Machines must be stable, and all lighting must be suitable for the tasks being undertaken
  • Machines must be capable of being isolated and safely worked up (maintenance, etc.)
  • There must be clear markings and warning signs provided

Manual handling equipment MUST be suitable for the task and appropriately maintained.

  • Strength and stability must not be exceeded – Safe Working Load (SWL) clearly displayed
  • Equipment for lifting persons must be appropriately inspected & checked
  • All lifting equipment must be positioned, installed, and marked correctly
  • All lifting operations must be appropriately planned
  • Examination and inspection details (including reports and defects) must be maintained

Underestimating risks…

The hazards of lifting equipment and the risks associated with using forklift trucks and other mechanical lifting aids in the workplace are often significantly underestimated. Employees working with or around them often become complacent because mobile manual handling lifting devices are usually quiet, frequently used, and part of the general working landscape.

However, incidents involving all types of mobile manual handling equipment are typically severe and often fatal.

Overloading, poor maintenance, lack of training, and complacency…

Lifting equipment is often very heavy, even when unloaded, and there is very little protection for pedestrians in case of collision or overturning. Overloading, poor road surfaces/markings, lack of barriers, poor lighting and contrast, no defined speed limits, no pedestrian crossings, maintenance issues, and lack of training can all contribute to workplace lifting equipment hazards, incidents and accidents.

It is imperative that if you operate any type of manual handling lifting equipment on your site, you have the necessary, safe systems of work in place to protect operatives/pedestrians / and anyone else who may be affected by such operations.

Undertake regular risk assessments…

Undertake regular risk assessments and ensure that your risk assessments consider using all types of manual lifting equipment in the workplace – consider site & yard activities, evaluate loading & unloading operations, etc.

Introduce appropriate control measures…

Introduce appropriate control measures to reduce /remove any risks wherever possible (including regular maintenance, room to manoeuvre on site, safe working limit observed, speed limits, defined traffic routes, one-way systems, lighting, pedestrian segregation, warning signage, training, etc.).

Smooth and level floors with adequate lighting…

Floors and roads should be smooth and level with adequate load-bearing capacity. Gradients should not exceed 10%, with aisles of adequate width and overhead clearance to ensure safe turning and movement for mechanical lifting aids.

Lighting should be adequate for all operations, with a minimum illumination level of 100lux, and designed to minimise glare.

Have clear structures and warning notices…

All structures and fixtures that could create an obstacle should have suitable warning notices displayed on or near them. This is particularly important for structural elements, load-bearing supports for racking, and fire protection features such as fire doors and compartment walls. Mechanical protection should be provided on automatic fire detection equipment, sprinkler heads supply lines, and other fragile service lines.

When it comes to battery charging and refuelling safety measures…

Batteries should be charged in separate specialist buildings or a designated area. In some cases, there may be an insurance requirement to separate this with 2-hour fire resistance from the remainder of a warehouse.

Battery-charging bays should be ventilated to ensure that hydrogen cannot accumulate. Smoking and other ignition sources should be eliminated from these areas, and prominent notices prohibiting these activities should be displayed. Petrol- or diesel-powered trucks should be refuelled in the open air using dispensing pumps – not by decanting from a drum or other container.

Start with Proper Planning:

Regular and irregular activities considerations

Ensure all work involving manual handling equipment is adequately planned and supervised by competent people. Ensure your site procedures consider regular loading/unloading/moving activities and irregular or unplanned activities.

Reviewing risk assessments and safe systems of work…

Review your risk assessment / safe system of work for unloading activities, and make sure what you are about to do on-site is safe (every time).

Safety Checks and Training

Regular inspections and annual thorough examinations…

Ensure that you undertake regular safety checks. All types of mechanical handling aids will typically be items of work equipment (and subject to all requirements of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 – PUWER) as well as lifting equipment (Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 – LOLER.

These items must be inspected and checked daily before use, along with regular servicing visits. All lifting equipment and accessories must be inspected annually using a thorough examination.

Regular training and performance review…

Ensure that appropriate training is provided for everyone who operates lifting equipment and keep that training regularly refreshed. Use your site-based inspections and any near-miss reporting systems that you might have in place to review your current performance and provide confidence that all aspects of mechanical handling aids/workplace transport and site loading activities are being managed safely.

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

Mechanical handling aids are vital for workplace efficiency, but their safe operation requires thorough risk assessment, proper maintenance, and ongoing training. We’re always happy to help different businesses manage the risk of their workplaces.

If you need support implementing appropriate control measures, adhering to safety protocols, mitigating risks, and ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment, get in touch by visiting Avensure Contact!