Manual Handling

Manual Handling includes a range of activities including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, supporting and transferring a load by bodily force.  A load can be an inanimate object, a person or an animal.  The weight of the item is an important factor, but many other factors can create a risk of injury, for example the number of times you have to pick up or carry an item, the distance you are carrying it, where you are picking it up from or putting it down (picking it up from the floor, putting it on a shelf above shoulder level) and any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward posture you may adopt while doing a task. These activities are a major cause of lower back pain, joint injuries and repetitive strain injuries with manual handling being the single most common cause of workplace injury across a variety of industries.

Back pain is the third biggest health complaint after heart disease and cancer with approximately 1 in 3 people suffering with back pain at some point in their lives. Around 11 million working days are lost each year in Europe due to back pain.

Correct Lifting Technique

Correct manual handling techniques involve keeping the natural curves in the back.  You will probably have heard of the saying “keep your back straight” but your back isn’t straight and has 3 natural curves.

Follow these simple points to help prevent injury when lifting.

  • Before handling, assess the weight and centre of gravity of the load
  • Think about the route you will take
  • Adopt a good base with feet shoulder width apart and with a leading leg forward
  • The heaviest part of the load should be closest to the body
  • Use a good palm grip to hold the load
  • Lift using your leg muscles which are the strongest muscles in the body
  • When lifting from the floor, the load should be lifted through the legs and between the knees to waist height.
  • Keep the load close to the body and at waist height, this is the best position to hold a load
  • Avoid twisting or leaning sideways
  • Keep your head up when handling
  • Do not try to lift more than can be easily managed


More pressure is placed on the back if the load is held away from the body.  This is known as the lever effect and when held at arm’s length, a load can feel like it weighs up to 10 times more than it actually does placing much more force on the back.

The movements that cause the most damage are called top heavy movements and include twisting, stooping, reaching and stretching.  Twisting is one of the worst things for your back.  An easy way to avoid twisting is to move your feet and legs around instead.

Weight Guidelines

There are no legal maximum weights for people to lift as everyone is an individual with different capabilities.  However, there are guideline weights available (see image below) which identify when trivial handling becomes significant or hazardous.  These are different for men and women which is not meant to be discriminatory but recognises that we are built differently.  Any hazardous manual handling should be avoided if reasonably practicable and if this cannot be achieved then the handling activity should be assessed by a competent person.


Reducing Risk

To help reduce the risks follow these simple tips:

  • Have materials delivered to their point of use to avoid unnecessary handling
  • Split loads in to smaller sizes
  • Make 2 trips instead of struggling to do everything in one go
  • Use any equipment available such as trolleys, sack barrows etc.
  • Ask for help from others
  • Plan your route and remove obstructions
  • Avoid bending, twisting, reaching, stretching, stooping
  • Seek advice if unsure
  • Know your limitations
  • Attend training


For more information on our Manual Handling courses please see our Health & Safety page or contact us on 01228 530 552 or email

For more general information on Manual Handling see the HSE Manual Handling at Work guide.

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