Avoid Manual Handling

Author – Gina O’Connor

Complying with the regulations

Employers have to go through three main steps to comply with regulations. The first step is to avoid any manual handling at all if it is reasonably practicable.  Second, if manual handling can’t be avoided then assess the hazards. And third employers must reduce the risk of injury as far as is reasonably practicable. Now, that phrase reasonably practicable is important. It could mean the difference between being convicted of negligence or being found innocent. Reasonably practicable means an employer can show that the cost of further safety measures would massively outweigh the benefits. Another term you need to be aware of is suitable and sufficient. Employers’ assessment of manual handling risks must be suitable and sufficient or they risk prosecution or being sued for compensation. There are two tests of whether employers’ manual handling risk assessment is suitable and sufficient. The first is whether they’ve assessed every manual handling operation that their staff have to carry out. The second is whether employers have considered the physical suitability of the employee. So you need to bear in mind the employees’ age, experience, and medical history. Do they for instance have a history of back pain? The general rule though is whether the task can be performed by most reasonably fit and healthy employees. If it can’t, then, the risk is unacceptable. These tests of whether a risk assessment is suitable and sufficient mean the last-minute assessment is unlikely to be acceptable. Instead, the assessment needs to be carried out by consulting the employees themselves, so, you can benefit from their experience. After all, they do the job. The aim of the risk assessment is to identify the manual handling risks that employees are likely to meet and then decide on what handling aids can be used to avoid them.

Can you do it differently?

Where possible of course it’s best to eliminate the need for manual handling. The first priority is to prevent injury to employees and improve safety. But different working practices can also improve efficiency. For a start, you might ask if the load needs to be handled at all if the work was organised differently. For instance, in a care home setting, could you bring the treatment to the patient rather than moving the patient to the treatment? Or, for processes such as machining and wrapping could they be carried out on the spot so you don’t have to move the product. Then if you come to the conclusion that the load does have to be moved you can consider automation or mechanisation. But, if you do go down the automation or mechanization route there are a couple of drawbacks to be considered. One is that automation and mechanisation can bring in different risks that require precautions. The other is that it’s best to decide on mechanisation and automation right at the beginning when the plant or the system of work is being designed. For example, you can plan the layout of the plant so that you can reduce the distance in which materials have to be transported or you can cut out the need to handle sacks completely by designing the plant so that products are transferred directly from large containers

Avoiding manual handling

Through looking at your existing activities you can find opportunities to avoid manual handling altogether this will not only improve your health and safety record but often improve efficiency and productivity and cut down the damage to loads. But sometimes manual handling can’t be avoided. So, it’s important to train employees so that they can work. This is where the regulations come in. That is, staff must be fully aware and trained in the safe systems of work that have been established to ensure their safety. It’s important to remember effective training should reinforce safe systems of work and not replace them.


So, we have seen that manual handling operations are our major cause of industrial accidents and ill health. The obligations are on both the employers and the employees to ensure manual handling operations are as safe as possible. Where possible employers should avoid manual handling altogether as long as it’s reasonably practicable. If they can’t then they need to assess the risks and reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practical. And staff should be trained in effective and safe systems of work.

About the author: Gina has a wealth of training experience and operations management acumen accrued during a career spanning over 25 years in roles such as administration, customer service management, and training in the heavily regulated aviation industry. She believes that learning should not be a ‘tick the box’ exercise for people. She is experienced in knowing the importance of ensuring companies become & remain compliant in accordance with national legislation as well as industry best practice.
She can identify with other small businesses as she is a local independent operator, who wants to look after local businesses also. She understands the challenges of keeping compliant while trying to operate a business. With her aviation background, she understands CRM and change management and the importance of training to bring about that effect.
As a member of the Irish Institute of Training and Development and NISO, Gina believes in keeping in line with best practices and the latest developments in the training sector.
Posted in Manual Handling.


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