Construction physical ill health risks: Manual handling

Regularly lifting, carrying or handling materials and items can cause serious injuries. Do not accept these injuries as an inevitable part of your work. This page tells you how to control these risks and why. More detailed information is available on the main HSE manual handling page.

What you must do

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 says you must prevent or reduce risks from lifting, carrying and handling loads. Follow the Assess, Control and Review model. Pay particular attention to:


Identify and assess: Construction sites have many different materials that need assembling or moving from one place to another. Consider:

  • Who – think about your employees. What do they have to lift and carry? Do they need to lower, push or pull any loads as well? Give particular consideration to anyone who is known to have an existing problem, like a back injury.
  • What – estimate or assess likely risks from the tasks you are doing. Pay attention to tasks that involve holding loads away from the body; twisting, stooping, working overhead or reaching upwards; large vertical movement; long carrying distances; strenuous pushing / pulling or repetitive handling. Also consider job demands or time pressure. This may mean workers resort to their own physical strength instead of using the appropriate lifting aids or do not have enough rest / recovery time. It is also important to think about the load that you are moving. Consider if it is heavy or bulky, difficult to grasp, unstable or likely to move unpredictably, harmful (eg sharp or hot), awkwardly stacked or too large to see over.
  • Where – consider where the work is taking place. Certain situations can increase the strain on the body or the risk of falling and impacts with the load. These include restrictions on posture; bumpy, obstructed or slippery floors; variations in floor levels and stairs; hot/cold/humid conditions; gusts of wind or other strong air movements; poor lighting conditions or restricted movement from clothes / personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Manual Handling Assessment Chart (MAC) tool has been developed to help you identify higher risk tasks.

You will also need to consider any risks from upper limb disorders linked to this work.


Where the risks are judged to be low, simple and inexpensive controls will suffice.  For certain specific tasks, like working with plasterboard, kerbs and paving or blocks and masonry units you may have to do more. Give priority to the greatest risks first.

Prevent: Think about eliminating or reducing lifting and carrying risks where possible. Consider:

  • using mechanical lifting aids like conveyors, hoists, telehandlers or cranes. Specialist devices and attachments (eg for windows ) are also available
  • delivering materials directly to their point of use. Plan ahead so you can lift materials into the building and distribute them by pallet truck while plant such as cranes and telehandlers still have access
  • making the load smaller or lighter and easier to lift (eg. using lighter trench blocks with handholds instead of heavy ones or alternative lighter materials for kerbs instead of concrete)
  • different construction methods (eg a panel wall system or cluster laying and concrete pour foundations instead of block laying)
  • using pre-mixed mortar, a batch mix silo or concrete pumps / trucks instead of mixing on site
  • keeping materials dry to stop them gaining weight or becoming slippery when handled

Control: Even if you minimise some of the risks this way, you may still do other work that can involve significant lifting or carrying. Control the risk by:

  • Manual lifting and carrying aidsmany devices are available including pallet trucks , sack barrows, trolleys, lifting devices and grips to help better grasp loads. These reduce the risk of injury by applying your body forces more efficiently. Make sure it is correct for the work you are doing. Unsuitable equipment can expose you to unnecessary risks.
  • Layout – allow adequate room for the work. Reduce the need to bend to materials, twist, stoop or stretch. Where possible, store heavier loads at waist height. Only store lighter or more easily / infrequently handled items on the floor. Mast climbers provide an alternative work platform to scaffolding while allowing the platform height to be precisely controlled so workers can lay materials at the most comfortable and productive height.
  • Environment – the ground should be even and firm where possible, particularly when pushing / pulling loads. Use suitable coverings if necessary. Keep the workspace clean and tidy. Ensure sufficient lighting so that workers can clearly see what they are doing. Avoid working in extremes of temperature if possible. Provide the right additional controls or personal protective equipment (PPE) where you cannot change these conditions.
  • Work practices – make sure that the work rate is suitable for the task. Rest and rotate workers if needed.
  • Information – make sure you are aware of the weight of the products you are lifting.

Train: Correct handling techniques are a valuable addition to the controls above. They are not a substitute for them. Training should be tailored to the tasks you are likely to do.


  • Supervise: Ensure that controls are effective and properly used.
  • Maintain: Lifting equipment needs to be thoroughly examined. Make sure other equipment is properly maintained, eg wheels on trolleys are not damaged.
  • Monitor: There is no requirement to carry out health surveillance. Currently no techniques exist for reliably detecting the early signs of ill health caused by lifting and carrying. Nevertheless, you can gain valuable information from less precise measures such as reporting, monitoring and investigating reported symptoms.

What you should know

Construction work, by its very nature, involves many lifting, carrying and handling activities. Construction workers are at risk because many of these tasks can require them to:

  • support loads, often in awkward positions
  • move heavy materials
  • carry loads over rough, uneven ground or within buildings
  • undertake highly repetitive tasks

These factors can create excessive stresses and strains on the body. This can cause immediate damage to muscles and tendons such as strains and sprains but can also lead to longer term or recurrent problems. These are commonly termed musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

The term MSD covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper / lower limbs or the back. Skilled construction and building trades are one of the occupations with the highest estimated prevalence of back injuries and upper limb disorders. Handling is also the most commonly reported cause of over seven day injuries in the industry.

Symptoms may include pain, aching, discomfort, numbness, tingling and swelling. Workers who suffer from MSDs may have a reduced ability to do tasks, as well as suffering recurrent or long term pain or discomfort.

FAQs on MSDs in construction

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Updated 2024-05-01