Guidance on the safe use of magnetic lifting devices



This document provides advice about reducing the risk of both injury to operators and other people, and of damage to plant and equipment from the use of magnetic lifting devices. It describes the hazards involved and some of the precautions that need to be considered when planning and carrying out handling activities using magnetic lifting devices.

The main concerns relate to electrically powered magnets used for lifting operations, but some of the issues will be equally applicable to permanent magnets.

This guidance has been prepared in consultation with the Steel Stockholding Lead Authority Partnership (a tri-partite body comprising Wolverhampton City Council, the National Association of Steel Service Centres (NASS) and the Health and Safety Executive), UK Steel, the British Recycled Metals Association and the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association.

The equipment

Electrically operated magnetic lifting devices, in the form of a single magnet or a group of magnets suspended from chains or wires or attached to lifting equipment in another way, can be used for lifting and transporting steels and most ferrous materials or components without the need for slingers. They are widely used in many industrial sectors including metal/component manufacture and storage, shipbuilding, and metal recycling facilities.

Magnets can be provided without power supply i.e. permanent magnets, or where power is supplied from an external source or through an in-built battery. Electro-permanent magnets are also available where permanent magnets are utilised to hold the load and power is used to release the load. Power is used to both energise and release the load. They use a combination of permanent magnets and magnets whose polarity is switched by an electrical pulse rather than mechanically. Some can be partially energised to facilitate load shredding. Different shapes and types of magnet are available, for example:

Main hazards

The principal safety hazard associated with their use is from falling material. People, plant, equipment, and services in the area of operation could be at risk from being struck by material which becomes detached from the magnet e.g. due to failure of the lifting device following loss of power, or due to incorrect application or operation.

A potential health risk to people working in the vicinity of these magnetic lifting devices is from the electromagnetic field (EMF) around the magnet (or around the supply conductors should the currents be very large). It is thought that this may interfere with the operation of implanted active body implants, such as heart pacemakers or insulin pumps (See paragraph 25). EMFs can also interfere with communication and control systems/equipment which could be safety related and therefore, create consequent risks which should also be assessed.

Under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER), magnetic lifting devices that are an integral part of machinery are classed as 'lifting equipment'; those that can be fitted to, and taken off, lifting equipment are considered to be 'accessories for lifting'. 'Lifting equipment' and 'accessories for lifting' are both 'work equipment' within the meaning of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).

The key requirements under LOLER and PUWER are set out in HSE guidance (see Further Reading) and on the HSE webpages Equipment and machinery . Additionally, the Safety Assessment Federation (SAFed) publish guidelines on what their assessment engineers look for during the thorough examination and test as required by LOLER. The relevant guide for electrically operated magnetic lifting devices (ref MLCC08) can be downloaded from SAFed’s website at Machinery Lift and Crane Guidelines.

Magnetic lifting equipment supplied (or put into service) for the first time in the EU should meet the requirements of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. Further information is set out in HSE guidance at Equipment and machinery . The current harmonised European Standard for magnetic lifting devices is BS EN 13155:2003+A2:2009 Cranes - Safety – Non-fixed load lifting attachments.
11 Suppliers of second-hand work equipment have duties under Section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and further guidance is available on the HSE webpages Second-hand (re-supplied) products - Equipment and machinery



Equipment suppliers should provide suitable technical information, particularly about the strengths and distribution of magnetic fields around the magnet for typical load configurations, so that users may complete appropriate risk assessments for its use and maintenance. Where an external electrical power supply is required suppliers should provide information on power requirements.

Before recommending or supplying magnetic lifting equipment, suppliers should:

Magnetic lifting devices should not be treated as 'general purpose' pieces of lifting gear as they have to be designed to suit particular types of loads and environments. Users should seek advice from the equipment manufacturer on the suitability of an existing device for all new applications.

Consider (as part of your risk assessment) installing permanent magnets with electromagnetic release so that in the event of a power failure, battery backup will not be needed.

Safety measures

The following safety measures should be considered [where equipment which is not to the current BS EN 13155:2003+A2:2009] and provided where reasonably practicable

Risk assessment

Employers should carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks, before new or existing magnetic lifting devices are specified for handling loads. This should consider whether such devices are appropriate and suitable taking into account all the circumstances of the proposed operation. Additionally, the proximity of persons to magnet should be considered (for all risks) and whether it is foreseeable that persons may deliberately or inadvertently approach the magnet. The assessment should be carried out by someone with knowledge of the material storage and handling processes, as well as the capabilities and limitations of this type of lifting equipment. Employees and their safety representatives with first-hand knowledge of the hazards and risks involved should be consulted during risk assessment.

Some of the factors that have a bearing on the selection of lifting magnets and operating conditions, particularly the SWL, include:

Other issues that should be taken into account in the risk assessment include:

Safe Operating Procedures

Safe operating procedures should be prepared and kept readily available for each magnet lifting arrangement. In addition, tables detailing the maximum loads for each type of material e.g. plate, bar, tube, casting etc, the range of thickness of the materials, and different air gaps should be conveniently displayed.

The following safe working practices should be considered for inclusion in any operating procedures for the safe use of magnetic lifting devices, though some of them may be inappropriate for handling waste materials:

Training of employees

Magnetic lifting devices should be operated only by trained persons who have been adequately informed, instructed and trained in the safe use of the equipment and the findings of any risk assessment. Training should cover:

Equipment inspection, maintenance and thorough examination

The manufacturer's instructions for the regular inspection and maintenance of the magnetic equipment should be followed. Where appropriate, inspection and maintenance schedules should include:

Safe working procedures should be devised for the safe isolation of the electrical supply (including any batteries) and followed by appropriate personnel.

Magnetic lifting devices should be thoroughly examined by a competent person and if appropriate, inspected at suitable intervals between the thorough examinations. Devices which are considered to be ‘lifting equipment’ are required to have 12 monthly thorough examinations and those considered ‘lifting accessories’ every 6 months (see Paragraph 8 for details). An alternative approach is for the competent person to examine the device as part of a written examination scheme.

Electromagnetic fields (EMF)

Workers with active body implants (e.g. heart pacemakers or less commonly insulin pumps, defibrillators and nerve stimulators), may be affected by the EMF around magnets. The worker’s medical specialist should be able to advise them of any risks associated with the implant. However, following the general rule of keeping people clear of the lifting/transporting zone to protect them from any displaced load (during operation), should also ensure that risks from EMFs are reduced to a minimum. Assessment of exposure during maintenance work may be more complex. BS EN 50527-1:2010 Procedure for the assessment of the exposure to electromagnetic fields of workers bearing active implantable medical devices – Part 1 – General and BS EN 50527-2:2011 Part 2 Specific assessment for workers with cardiac pacemakers will be helpful in assessing these risks.

EMFs may also interfere with other plant/equipment and controls (including safety control systems and communication equipment). The effects of EMFs on such equipment should be assessed especially where this equipment is considered to be safety critical. These effects are more likely if higher currents are used.

Further reading

  1. Safe use of lifting equipment LOLER Approved Code of Practice and guidance L113
  2. Safe use of work equipment PUWER Approved Code of Practice and guidance L22
  3. Board Statement on restrictions on human exposure to static and time varying electromagnetic fields and radiation (Docs of the NRPB Vol 4, No 5, 1993 HMSO, ISBN 0 85951 366 1)
  4. HSE guidance note HSG246: Safety in the storage and handling of steel and other metal stock
  5. BSEN13155:2003+A2:2009 Cranes - Safety – Non-fixed load lifting attachments
  6. Buying new machinery and Supplying new machinery, both free from HSE Books
  7. Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), Code of Practice
Updated: 2023-05-10