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Labelling of loads

Regulation 4 of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) requires employers to take appropriate steps to provide general indications and, where it is reasonably practicable to do so, precise information on the weight of each load, and the heaviest side of any load whose centre of gravity is not positioned centrally.

Remember that providing information about load weights can be useful – but should not be the only step you take to comply with the regulations. You should give priority to the risk control measures which are likely to be most effective in eliminating or reducing risk. For example, if a load is unusually heavy it is better to handle it mechanically, use lifting aids, or subdivide it if this can be done.

What do I have to do

The purpose of this guidance is to offer HSE's view on what the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) require employers to do on labelling loads. However, it is for the courts to determine what the regulations require.

The first step required by the Regulations is that employers should, as far as reasonably practicable, avoid the need for their employees to carry out manual handling operations that involve a risk of injury. If this is not reasonably practicable then the risks to employees of the manual handling operations carried out in the normal course of their work should be assessed and reduced as far as is reasonably practicable. But some loads may remain whose weight creates a risk of injury to employees in the normal course of their work.

You need to remember:

What information should be included

If it is reasonably practicable to give precise information you should do so. Giving information that will help to prevent injury does not necessary require you to quote weights to anything more than the nearest kilogram or two. More detailed information would not help handlers avoid risks. This also applies to indications of the heaviest side, unless the load is sufficiently out of balance to take handlers by surprise.

The purpose of providing information about weights is to quickly and reliably warn handlers when a load is heavy. So you need to put the information where it will be seen and is easy to understand.

Marking the weight on the load itself can be a good way to give precise information, but is not a legal requirement. Other methods of giving the information can be used, such as a verbal reminder, a wall poster or a pocket card.

If it is not reasonably practicable to give precise information it is sufficient for the employer to provide general indications about the weight (and heaviest sides, if applicable) of the typical kinds of loads to be handled in a job.

Training should also cover practical techniques handlers can use to assess the weight of unfamiliar loads, such as applying force gradually and stopping if strain is felt; or rocking the load from side to side before attempting to lift it.

Further information can be found in the Labelling loads FAQs; this includes examples of kinds of work where precise information cannot be given, such as handling patients or livestock - and shows what still has to be done in these cases.

Manufacturers and suppliers

MHOR does not place a duty on manufacturers or suppliers to mark weights on loads. But they do have duties under sections 3 and 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect people not in their employment who may be affected by handling loads they have supplied.

Therefore it is good practice for manufacturers and suppliers to mark weights (and, if relevant, information about the heaviest side) on loads if this can be done easily.

Updated 2011-09-08