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August 29, 2022

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Everything you need to know about manual handling risk assessments

‘Go on, put your back into it!’ Not what you want to hear when it comes to manual handling. Instead, this is an area where investing time in risk assessment and task-specific training are essential when it comes to avoiding people suffering short- or long-term pain. A wide range of technology already exists to avoid or significantly reduce the impact of manual handling; spend the time to investigate what might be suitable for you, says Adam Clarke, Managing Director (Consulting) at Praxis42.

Adam Clarke

Adam Clarke, Managing Director (Consulting) Praxis42.

In fact, employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees from any potential dangers that may arise from manual handling for a good reason: it’s one of the most common causes of injury in the workplace.

In 2020/21 alone, almost a fifth of the 51,211 non-fatal injuries reported by employers were due to handling, lifting or carrying. These injuries often result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by carrying loads that are too heavy, attempted with bad posture or in an environment that contains other hazards, such as things to trip over, or limited space. As I’ve noted in previous articles, not only are these back, neck and spine injuries debilitating to the person suffering, they can have a major impact on the business too due to lost time.

What is manual handling?

So what exactly constitutes ‘manual handling’? It’s simply the lifting, lowering, pulling, carrying or moving of an item or load (including items, people and animals) by hand or bodily force. Anyone involved in work that includes manual handling is at risk of injury, no matter how many hours they spend lifting weights at the gym. Even light loads can be a danger if the task is repetitive!

Who is responsible for manual handling?

Everyone is responsible for manual handling. As an activity known to cause harm, the people who undertake manual handling are responsible. This responsibility stretches from being a part of the team risk-assessing the activities, to actively participating in training, and following the agreed techniques. They are also an essential part in feeding back any challenges or problems.

Whilst those undertaking have responsibility the employer must be the driving force to ensure manual handling risk is managed. It’s for this reason that the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 set out the need to carry out risk assessments for any tasks that involve it, provide appropriate information (e.g. weight of load) and review the assessment.

Read more: Workplace fatality figures released for 2021/22

Who should carry out an assessment?

liftingA ‘competent’ person, or people can be given the task of carrying out a risk assessment. The numbers should be proportionate to the risk. The goal is to identify the risks in the manual handling task, and then find solutions to either eliminate the manual handling altogether, or to mitigate the risks to reduce the likelihood of injury. Good practice for completing risk assessment is to involve the people who undertake the task as they have day-to-day insight and are more likely to own the risk assessment when it is completed.

How often should you review an assessment?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an assessment needs to be reviewed when either the risk assessment is no longer valid, or there has been a significant change to the task. This could be:

  • New equipment
  • New environment
  • Weight of load has changed

Outside of these, good practice is to review annually.

The assessment itself

Like any good risk in health and safety the first step is always to see if it can be eliminated entirely with a solution like automated equipment. If this is not possible, then the risk assessment needs to be carried out, looking at each of the following in turn, involving employees and/or their representatives in the process:

  • the task being carried out
  • the individuals doing it
  • the type of load being handled
  • the environment

Those bold words won’t have escaped your attention. Their initial letters form another acronym which helps us to remember each of the factors: TILE (and occasionally LITE). The HSE recommends that you use checklists and diagrams to ensure you cover all potential hazards, and also provide manual handling assessment charts (the MAC tool) to help you identify hazardous environments.

Listen: Approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders


Firstly, consider the task itself and what it involves. Is it repetitive? Does it involve lots of bending and twisting? Sudden movements? Two or more people required? Carrying items over a long distance or at high speed? All of these factors carry risks that need to be considered.


This isn’t just about how fit or strong somebody needs to be to carry out the task, you should also consider the impact of factors such as the height of the individual (particularly if the task involves lots of bending) and whether the task needs to be tackled by more than one person.

You also need to think about particular individuals involved, and whether they have pre-existing injuries or disabilities, are new/expectant mothers, or are younger or older people. Something that’s often overlooked is if somebody involved doesn’t have English as their first language. In this case there’s a risk that the correct procedures to follow may not have been communicated fully. All of the above situations may call for separate risk assessments or training.


Now think about the object, person or animal that’s being moved and whether there are any hazards inherent in it. The most obvious factors are whether the object is heavy or awkward to lift, but you should also consider whether the item could move or shift while being carried, whether it is hot or extremely cold or it is difficult to grasp securely.


Finally look at the area in which the load is being handled and identify anything that could affect the manual handling. For example, is the space restricted? Does it have trip hazards or objects that people could bump into? Is the floor clean and offering good grip, or is it dirty or slippery? Is there a steep slope, or steps? Is visibility good in the space? What about lighting?

As you can see, there are lots of things to consider for every assessment, which is why checklists are a good idea.

Other factors

Occasionally TILE receives an ‘O’ at the end, which stands for ‘Other factors’. These could include everything from manual handling equipment being used (whether it’s fit for purpose and the individuals have been trained to use it properly) through to psychological factors such as a high workload, tight deadlines and lines of communication between team members and managers.

Even if you don’t add the O to TILE, these additional factors should all be considered during your assessment.

Next steps

Of course the whole point of the assessment is to reduce any identified risks, so this post-assessment step is absolutely essential. The measures you’ll need to take will depend on your particular circumstances, but commonly include:

  • Using specialist equipment to lift and carry the load
  • Making the loads easier to lift and carry by adding handles, or by making the loads themselves lighter or smaller
  • Making the area safer by removing obstacles and improving lighting, ventilation and the floor itself if necessary
  • Limiting the need to lift loads from the floor, or above shoulder height
  • Revising your workplace’s procedures to reduce the distance loads need to be carried, or to limit bending and twisting
  • Providing workers with more frequent breaks

Manual handling training

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that if employees are involved in manual handling tasks that carry a risk of injury, it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide them with manual handling training. E-learning training can provide good underpinning knowledge and should be combined with task-specific training if required.

When selecting a manual handling awareness training course, look for one that’s delivered by experienced health and safety professionals and is approved by organisations such as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Public Health (IOSH).

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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William Clark
William Clark
1 year ago

While i agree with Adam on this issue of how to complete a manual handling risk assessment he has failed to address the one major factor to the process namely COST. He states “Like any good risk in health and safety the first step is always to see if it can be eliminated entirely with a solution like automated equipment.” In this day and age where cost is a critical factor consideration must be given when evaluating a fix and the term “where practicable” needs to be entered into the equation. It may be the case that the fix is… Read more »

Simon Kidd
Simon Kidd
1 year ago
Reply to  William Clark

The legal standard is “as far as reasonably practicable”, which allows the duty holder to balance the cost (money, time, effort etc.) of controls against the benefits in terms of risk reduction. “Practicable” is a higher duty where a duty holder can’t take cost into account in certain situations (providing machinery guarding for example). Most people would argue that cost has always been a “critical factor”. A hierarchy of control (e.g. the one in ISO45001) gives the relative effectiveness of types of control measures – Elimination is at the top. You are allowed to take cost into account but should… Read more »