What is Manual Handling?

This article looks at what manual handling is and the risks it exposes.

Author – Gina O’Connor

Manual handling covers a wide range of activities from lifting and lowering to pushing and pulling. The nature of the load itself doesn’t matter it could be a person or an animal or a sack or a box if you have to use your muscles then it’s manual handling and well, you’re in danger. Manual handling or to be correct incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes fatigue and injuries to the back neck shoulders arms and other body parts

There are two main types of injury that result from poor manual handling the first are the cuts bruises that you might get if there is a sudden unexpected event like an accident if you dropped what you were trying to carry for instance.

But the most likely type of injury is the one that creeps up on you over a longer period of time. Gradually damaging your body’s musculoskeletal system. That’s the muscles, tendons, ligaments bones,  blood vessels, and nerves that make your body work. These injuries are called musculoskeletal disorders. They can be divided into three groups: neck and upper limb disorders lower limb disorders and back pain and back injuries. Back pain and back injuries are the most common musculoskeletal disorders caused by poor manual handling and there are significant and increasing problems right across Europe. About 25% of European workers say they suffer from back pain brought on by their work. It tops the list of all work-related disorders with people working in agriculture, construction, and transport, communicating the highest instance of reporting

Possible consequences of incorrect manual handling.

You might think that a bad back is one of those things but chronic back pain is crippling and can affect every aspect of your life. Lower back disorders can have serious consequences. They may restrict what you can do in both work and leisure for the rest of your life.

It’s important to acknowledge that some jobs and industries are more at risk than others so special care needs to be taken. The construction industry, for example, has a far higher rate of back disorder than average occupations. Where you need to take special care such as health professionals particularly in hospitals skilled trades especially in construction and building and service occupations that provide personal care. Similarly, some people naturally have to take more care. New and expectant mothers and older workers should be particularly careful. Anyone returning to work after an illness, or a new starter, or anyone unfamiliar with the tasks can be at risk. Many of these groups might try to manually handle something in an inappropriate way and risk serious injury or pain. You also have to take into account your own size and physical condition. Manual handling is not a competition, so if a load is too large or unwieldy don’t risk injury by trying to handle it alone

Basic Anatomy

Understanding basic anatomy as a starting point for basic back disorders is really quite straightforward. The back has four natural curves, the muscles and joints in the back receive the least strain in an upright posture that maintains the natural curves. If you can maintain these natural curves while manual handling you can minimise the risk of damaging your body. It may look funny but one way of ensuring you keep these natural curves is to stick your bottom out. If you’ve ever seen professional weight lifters on the TV, you’ll see them do this. It’s because the bottom has the biggest muscle in the body, the gluteus maximus so when you’re sticking out your bottom you’re effectively setting out a counterbalance. You can then keep your back still and use your legs to lift or lower the load. Another safe manual handling technique is to keep the load you’re handling as close to your body as possible and to avoid twisting, turning, or bending your back. Don’t let it become a pain in the neck.


So manual handling is anything you do to move an object without the aid of machinery or equipment.

It’s the most common cause of injury at work with your back in particular most at-risk. Chronic pain and back disorders can seriously restrict your work and leisure activities for the rest of your life.

To minimise the risks, remember to keep your back in its natural position while manually handling a load and try to take the strain with your legs like a weightlifter most important of all don’t tackle any load that is too heavy or unwieldy. For a free trial of our training click here.

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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.