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FAQs - Manual handling and labelling loads

Manual handling

What can be done to help prevent manual handling injuries?

Answer: In simple terms, the main thing is a risk assessment, though there are other considerations: Firstly, does the load need to be moved at all?
If so, can it be moved mechanically? For example by using a handling aid, such as a pallet truck, an electric or hand-powered hoist, or a conveyor? Advice on the many different types of lifting and handling aids is contained in Making the best use of lifting and handling aids .

If manual lifting is the only option then there are a number of things that can be done to reduce the risk, including;

Are there any recommended weight limits for manual lifting?

Answer: The law does not identify a maximum weight limit. It places duties on employers to manage or control risk; measures to take to meet this duty will vary depending on the circumstances of the task. Things to be considered will include the individual carrying out the handling operation, e g strength, fitness, underlying medical conditions, the weight to be lifted and distance to be carried, the nature of the load or the postures to be adopted or the availability of equipment to facilitate the lift.

There is no universally safe maximum weight for any load, however, there are varying degrees of risk. The guidance on the Manual Handling Operations Regulations gives basic guideline figures for lifting and lowering which indicate when a more detailed risk assessment should be carried out.

What should a manual handling training course involve?

Answer: Although training can be important in raising awareness and reducing risk, it should not be assumed that training alone will ensure safe manual handling. It should be supplemented with monitoring and reviews of procedures to ensure that the training is understood and being applied. Reporting problems such as unsafe working conditions or accidents need to be reinforced by good supervision.
Training should cover:

What is the correct lifting technique?

Answer: There is no single correct way to lift. The technique for lifting will depend on many things, such as the weight and size of the item. For example, it would be easier to pick up something that is boxed and has handholds than something awkwardly shaped or where the weight is unevenly distributed. The content of any training in good handling technique should be tailored to the particular situation or individual circumstances under which the manual handling takes place. However, HSE has published guidance which contains illustrations of good handling practice.
Check the HSE Guidance - Manual handling at work: A brief guide

Is there such a thing as a 'no lifting' policy?

Answer: The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 do not prohibit individual types of manual handling or endorse 'no lifting' policies. However, manual handling should be limited to those times when it cannot be avoided and only where the risk has been assessed and minimised. Employers cannot simply pass on the risk to employees and a balanced approach to risk is advocated to ensure that workers are not required to perform tasks that put them at unreasonable risk.

Are there any tools that will help me make a risk assessment?

Answer: HSE has produced a series of tools that assess some of the risks involved in manual handling. These include the MAC tool for most manual handling tasks, the ART tool for assessing repetitive movements and the RAPP tool for pushing and pulling operations.

Check the HSE website - Toolkit

What is the law on manual handling to protect employees?

Answer: Employers have a legal obligation under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk to employees from the manual handling of loads. This is a legal requirement and the Regulations must be complied with.

The Regulations set out a hierarchy of measures that should be followed to reduce the risks from manual handling. These are set out in regulation 4(1) and are as follows;

Labelling loads

'Labelling loads' - what do I have to do?

Answer: 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.

The first step required by the Regulations is that employers should, so far as is 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.

To meet the provisions of Regulation 4 you:

Nursing and care home staff move and handle patients/service users, how are they expected to comply with the requirement to label a load?

Obviously, they are not expected to label the person with their weight. However, the weight of the patient should form part of the risk assessment and be recorded and communicated to staff as part of the patient's moving and handling plan. If their weight is not available, then an informed estimate should be made taking into account their size and information from others, including the patient. Their weight is only one aspect of the risk assessment and there are many other factors to take into account when moving and handling an individual, including the use of transfer and lifting aids.

Look at ‘Moving and handling’ from HSE’s ‘Health and social care services’ web pages for more information.

On the farm we have to handle live sheep for sheep shearing and dipping purposes. What information do we have to provide about their weight?

It would not be practical to weigh and mark the weight on each animal, but the weight of an adult sheep will not vary hugely within a particular breed. So you can give handlers a good idea of the weights involved when you train them about handling techniques. Manual handling of large animals will require full risk assessment, as there are several hazards involved.

Look at HSE’s ‘Agriculture health and safety’ web pages for more information.

How can refuse collection operations meet the requirement for marking the weights of loads?

It would not be reasonably practicable to mark these loads or provide any precise information about their weights. Instead, job training could include information on the likely range of weights that refuse sacks, bins and recycling boxes may have. Staff can also be taught techniques to estimate whether a load is safe to lift, such as rocking the load from side to side.

Look at HSE’s ‘Waste management and recycling’ web pages for more information.

My employees handle materials such as timber and sand that are unmarked and can also change weight in wet weather. What should I do to provide information?

You should provide general information about the range of weights likely to be encountered, and train employees on how to assess weight and to lift safely. Many loose materials are now supplied in containers or sacks that are suitably sized for most employees to handle safely but some individuals may need to be discouraged from trying to move several items at once.

Our warehouse employees handle products that are similar in size but will vary in weight depending on model number. Do we have to mark them with a precise weight?

Not necessarily, if your products cannot easily be marked. As your workforce will be familiar in their regular work with the basic product and its variations, their job training could provide information on the weight and nature of these typical loads and that would be an acceptable alternative to marking the loads.

However you should still try to give precise weight information about any item that is unfamiliar to the workforce and heavier than usual; particularly if these products (in their packaging, if applicable) look the same as the ones that are handled frequently.

We supply our products to other firms where we know they are manually handled. Do we need to mark the weight on our products even though our own employees do not manually handle them?

This would be good if it is reasonably practicable to do so and where handling the load would be likely to involve a risk of injury. Mark loads clearly with their weight and if the loads are unbalanced, an indication of their heaviest side. Remember you should also make loads as easy to grasp and handle as possible, e.g. by adding handles, hand grips or indents where appropriate.

In our depot some things arrive with the weight marked on them and others don't. Are we expected to mark the weights on all unmarked items?

Not necessarily. Small, light items would not have to be marked, as the regulations are only concerned with hazardous manual handling. For heavier things, a general indication of the range of load weights likely to be encountered is all that is required - unless the items can be marked easily when they arrive. Training can be used to give general indications about load weights and to teach staff to be cautious when handling unmarked loads, and test loads before lifting.

Our staff do household removals and we cannot ensure they are told the weight of all the loads they lift.

Here it would not be reasonably practicable to provide any precise information. Training could be used to teach staff to be cautious when handling unmarked loads, and test loads before lifting.

If possible an indication of any unusually heavy furniture or boxes could be requested from the customers. Simply labelling such items as 'Heavy' could be a useful reminder and would help to meet the requirement on you to provide general indications of weights of loads. Staff could be taught to always use lifting aids or team lifting for items marked as heavy.

Some of my employees handle bulk quantities of small items by pushing them around on trolleys. What weight information has to be provided?

For tasks that involve pushing or pulling rather than lifting or carrying, you may not need to provide weight information, because the weight of each item is not so relevant to the risk. What matters is the amount of force required to move the load, which depends on things like the suitability and condition of the trolley (wheels and handles), the smoothness of the floor and whether it is level or sloping.

There is no requirement to give force information to employees. Instead, you should concentrate on reducing risks by providing good trolleys and working conditions and training staff in pushing/pulling techniques. However you should train staff not to overload their trolleys, for example how to recognise when they reach the safe working load for the equipment they are using.

Look at L23 and the RAPP tool for more information.

Updated 2018-07-30