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Manual Handling

Working in construction is all about lifting and carrying stuff that is heavy- surely there's nothing that can be done about that!?

There are many things that can be done to eliminate and control the need to lift and carry things. Manual handling accounts for the majority of non-fatal injuries in construction, and construction workers have a high level of musculoskeletal disorders, in particular back problems. See:

This leads to many working days lost due to ill health and injury and is also reason why many people have to stop working in construction.

Use a hierarchy of controls to look at manual handling tasks and only resort to handling and lifting where there are no other options.

What weight is safe for me to lift on my own?

There are many things that will affect the ability of an individual to lift and carry particular objects and the risk that this creates, so there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ weight.

Legal requirements require avoidance or control of risk. HSE does not recommend weight limits. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) guidance gives basic guideline figures for lifting and lowering which indicate when a more detailed risk assessment should be carried out.

Manual handling. Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended). Guidance on Regulations L23 (Third edition) HSE Books 2004 ISBN 0 7176 2823 X , price £8.95.

How do I know if what I'm asking my workers to do (on manual handling) is likely to cause them problems - surely it is down to the individual?

No! There are duties on you as the employer under Manual Handling Operations Regulations to do all you can to assess the risk to workers, eliminate that risk where possible or use controls and aids to reduce the risk to a manageable level.  The Manual Handling Assessment Charts can help you assess where the main risks of manual handling are to your workers. This will make it easier for you to look into ways of dealing with the most risky situations.

For example, sack trucks or trolleys can be used to move things around a site to prevent the need for handling over distances.  Planning ahead to ensure materials are loaded out close to where they are needed reduces the need for handling heavy materials

Speak to your workers – they are the best placed to tell you what the problems are and possibly come up with solutions.

You might find the following case studies useful, and  there are many lifting and carrying aids on the market  -you could hire before you buy as they can be expensive and may not suit your workers or the particular work situation.

My workers rarely lift and carry materials but have to drag items across site. How can I know if they are doing too much?

Although you may think that the Manual Handling Operations Regulations only apply to the lifting, lowering and carrying of loads, they also apply to pushing and pulling. This "pushing and pulling" guide should help you ensure all physical risks are considered and you are complying with legislation.

Is it OK to carry plasterboard up stairs using a two man lift?

As with all manual handling operations you should avoid, replace and mechanise the lifting in that order wherever possible.  In the case of carrying and handling plasterboard there are risks related to weight, difficulties with grip and the unwieldy nature of the board. Often the boards need manoeuvring in restricted spaces which can have trip and slip hazards.

Firstly the plasterboards should be loaded out as close to where they are required as possible using cranes, lifts and trolleys.  Access routes (eg through floors or external openings) can be created to reduce the need for awkward postures when handling up stairwells.

In all cases good planning of the work is essential in reducing the need for manual handling 

Two person handling of the board would be a last resort, where all other options have been explored, the frequency of the lifting is low and other controls have been put in place to reduce the risk of injuries.

Is there any guidance available on the safe lifting of kerbs?

Yes.  The point is that you should not be lifting kerbs in the majority of circumstances.  This is a risky task due to the heavy weight of traditional kerbs, the repetitive nature of the process of and the poor posture the work involves.  Firstly, at the design stage you should decide whether  kerbing is necessary.  There are alternatives to the traditional laying of kerbs that you can consider using plastic kerbs, hollow kerbs, or slipform kerbs instead,and precautions such as mechanisation of lifting, shorter lengths and finally handling aids

Remember that kerb laying may also involve other health risks including; hand arm vibration, dust, noise.

Is it OK to adopt a two person lift for laying heavy blocks?

Use of two workers to lay blocks over 20kg has been suggested in previous guidance but this has not proved to be workable and is no longer recommended.  There is a risk of immediate injury or of long term physical disability from single-handed repetitive manual handling of heavy masonry units; particularly those weighing above 20kg.  When designing or specifying blocks, the lightest block that fulfils the performance criteria should be chosen.  In the majority of cases blocks weighing under 20kg are available that will fulfil the required design specification.  It is not just the weight that matters though; a safe system of work will include suitable precautions to avoid or minimise all hazards. This includes the weight, the repetitive nature of the work, poor posture, stooping and reaching as well as the risks associated with slips/trips/falls, sharp or rough edges and skin hazards caused by contact with mortar.

Further information on manual handling risks in construction is available.