An overview of how manual handling at work can lead to injury.

Manual handling is something we all do every day without thinking. Nothing usually happens. But what happens if we injure ourselves at work whilst carrying out a manual handling activity? Manual handling covers a wide spectrum of activities: lifting, carrying and pushing.  It is not restricted to objects .  Manual handling is carried out by people who work in the health or care sector who have to lift and carry patients as part of their everyday duties.

At work, manual handling is governed by the Manual Handling Operating Regulations 1992 (‘the Regulations’). The Regulations apply to work wherever it takes place e.g.  a factory, a hospital, an office, a building site etc.  Over a ¼ of accidents reported to the Health & Safety Executive involve manual handling. The Regulations apply to all employers regardless of their size.  The main aim of the Regulations is to prevent injury, not only to the back but to any part of the body.

Employers are required to:

  • Avoid the need for manual handling so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risk of injury from any manual handling that cannot be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury from manual handling so far as is reasonably practicable

If a manual handling activity cannot be avoided an employer must assess the task and try to reduce the risk of injury  to an employee to its lowest level reasonably practicable.  The assessment should address the task, the load, the working environment and the individuals’ capabilities.

‘Reasonable Practicability’ means that an employer has to balance the cost of the risk (likelihood and the severity of the consequences) of  an injury happening because of a manual handling activity against the cost involved in the measures necessary for preventing the risk  .  If the cost is insignificant then the measures should be implemented .

An employee has duties too:

  • Follow systems of work in place for their safety
  • Use equipment provided for their safety
  • Co-operate with their employer on health & safety matters
  • Ensure that the activity that the employee is doing does not put others at risk.

If an employer does not comply with the Regulations and an employee is injured carried out a manual handling activity the employer may have breached their duty to the employee and may be liable to the employee for their injury.

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