Agriculture - Manual handling

What you need to do...

The law requires you to avoid undertaking hazardous manual handling where reasonably practicable, to assess the risks from any hazardous manual handling where it cannot be avoided, and to take action to reduce these risks. The key issues are:

What you need to know...

Manual handling includes lifting, carrying, putting down, pushing, pulling, moving or supporting a load by hand or using other bodily force. It is not just the weight of the load that can cause injury: the size, shape, available grip, the way you carry the load, where you have to carry it, and how often you have to do the task all play a part.

Many workers suffer from various 'musculoskeletal disorders' (MSDs) as a result of poor manual handling techniques, or through other tasks which involve repetitive movements, excessive force, unusual postures, or from badly organised working practices.

These can include muscle injuries, sprains or strains, back pain, sciatica, hernias, arthritis, or swelling of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder ('work-related upper limb disorders' or WRULDs). People may not fully recover from these, affecting their ability to carry out any manual work in the future. So plan your handling tasks properly.

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Consider whether you have to move the load manually at all. If possible eliminate manual handling completely, for example:

  • Fully mechanise the task. A move to big bales, or fertiliser in big bags, eliminates manual handling because they can only be moved by machine.
  • Introduce feed-handling systems incorporating bulk storage bins and distribution pipes to eliminate the handling of feed compounds.
  • Use other mechanised systems to eliminate the filling, carrying and tipping of small feed bags or sacks.

Remember the Regulations do not set specific requirements such as weight limits. Consider:

  • the task;
  • the load;
  • the person's capability; and
  • the working conditions.

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If you cannot avoid manual handling, look at the risks from your handling operations. You do not have to look at every task in detail – if the load is less than about 25 kg, easily gripped close to the body, and the working conditions are good (eg indoors, with a level floor and plenty of space) the risk of injury to most people will be low.

Instead, focus on the tasks with the greatest risks. Use HSE's Manual Handling Assessment Chart [211KB] (MAC tool) to help you identify problem areas, eg loads that:

  • weigh over 25 kg or are difficult to handle because of their size or shape;
  • need frequent lifting or lowering, or carrying over long distances;
  • are difficult to manoeuvre, and/or involve twisting or lifting above shoulder height or from the floor.

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If you cannot eliminate the risk, look at how you can reduce it to an acceptable level, for example:

  • Use mechanical assistance and/or lifting aids.
  • Change to smaller, lighter unit sizes, eg use feed blocks or feed bags weighing 25 kg or less.
  • Reduce lifting or carrying distances by providing mechanical or other ways to move goods.
  • Find improved ways of handling.

Where manual handling tasks remain and you cannot avoid them, make sure that workers know how to use the correct lifting techniques and provide training to enable them to do this.

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Lifting safely

  • Think before handling or lifting:
    • Where is the load going to be placed?
    • Can you use handling aids?
    • Do you need help with the load?
  • Keep the load close to your waist for as long as possible while lifting. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to your body.
  • Adopt a stable position: Have you feet apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load if it is on the ground).
  • Ensure a good hold on the load: Where possible, hug the load as close as possible to your body. This may be better than gripping it tightly with the hands.
  • Bend your back, hips and knees slightly at the start of the lift: This is better than either fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (full/deep squatting).
  • Don't flex your back any further while lifting: This can happen if your legs begin to straighten before you start to raise the load.
  • Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways, especially while your back is bent:
  • Keep your shoulders level and facing in the same direction as your hips. Turning by moving the feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.
  • Keep your head up while handling: Look ahead, not down at the load, when you are holding it securely.
  • Move smoothly: Don't jerk or snatch the load as this can make it harder to control.
  • Don't lift or handle more than you can easily manage: There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can lift safely.
  • Put down, then adjust: If precise positioning of the load is necessary, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.


A good handling technique or training in safe lifting is no substitute for other risk-reduction steps such as improving the task, load or working environment, or providing mechanical handling or lifting aids. Good technique requires both training and practice. Training is available from various sources including training groups, colleges and organisations such as Lantra Awards.

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