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Manual handling in the workplace

How to define manual handling

When asked, most people think of manual handling as lifting boxes from one place to another. 

The general view of manual handling training consists of lifting a “perfect” box that is the right shape, size and weight for you, whilst bending your knees and keeping your back straight.

In reality, the box is always too big, too heavy, requires pulling or pushing, twisting whilst lifting and is often not even box shape.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment needs to be carried out to determine what action can be taken to reduce the risk of injury.

A risk assessment asks a series of questions:

  • does this load need to be moved at all?
  • can it be moved mechanically?
  • can a handling aid, pallet truck, conveyor or hoist be used?

If manually lifting the object is the only option, the risk can be reduced:

  • make the load into smaller or lighter lifts
  • split up a large consignment into smaller quantities
  • modify the work place to prevent or reduce the need to twist or lift from floor level or high level
  • ensure a safe environment (uncluttered, even and non-slip floors, improved lighting and heating)
  • provide suitable training that is relevant to your workplace

How to carry out a risk assessment

Guidance has been produced by the Health and Safety Inspectorate, “Guidance on Risk Assessment, Revised 2018” which provides general information on how to carry out a risk assessment; you can get a free copy from the Inspectorate.

There are several tools and guidance documents that the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced specifically to aid employers in carrying out a manual handling risk assessment.

These include:

  • the MAC Tool which can be used for most manual handling tasks

  • the ART tool for assessing repetitive movements

  • the Push Pull guidance which deals with moving items other than by lifting

The HSE has also produced written guidance “L23: Manual Handling” which provides templates and examples of how to carry out a manual handling risk assessment.

Check the HSE website for further information for the tools and to download a free copy of the guidance.

UK's Health and Safety Execu​tive website 

Guidance on risk assessment​ ​​

Maximum weights you can lift

The law doesn't address manual handling specifically so doesn't give a maximum weight which can be lifted. 

It's for the employer to determine what is acceptable. Many factors will influence the company’s decision on how to manually handle items.

These would include, but not be limited to, considering:

  • the individual carrying out the task, e.g. strength, fitness, underlying medical conditions
  • the weight to be lifted
  • the distance to be carried
  • the size and shape of the item
  • whether an awkward position has to be taken to move the item

The HSE guidance does give a basic indication regarding general weights. However, it must be noted that these values may need to be reduced once other factors have been taken into consideration.

Manual handling training courses

Any training course should be specific to a company’s working environment.

Does the work environment result in awkward or unusual manual handling? If so, it is likely that the trainer would have to come to your business to review your working practices before the training session.

They should be able to identify whether there are lifting aids available that would reduce the risk of injury, and if not then identify and train your employees in the best way to manually handle the items.

If an individual can see that the training being given is relevant and useful for the job they are carrying out, they are more likely to use and continue to use those methods.

Training will raise awareness and reduce risk, however employees need to be supervised, procedures reviewed and updated. Having a good safety culture within a company will encourage employees to report any problems, such as unsafe working practices, so that solutions can be identified and safety improved.

Legal requirements

The Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989 is the legislation used in Jersey to ensure that employers provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.

Article three of the law requires employers to carry out an assessment of the significant risks to which their company exposes its employees and to identify and implement the control measures which will reduce those risks.

Where an employer employs five or more employees, they must ensure that the risk assessment is formally recorded and written down.

Manual handling is considered to be a significant risk and it would be expected that a risk assessment had been carried out for that activity.

Article three also requires the employer to provide information, instruction, training and supervision.


Manual handling is considered to be a significant risk therefore:

  • a risk assessment of the activity is required
  • if the load has to be moved, the use of manual handling aids should first be considered
  • there is no prescribed maximum weight that can be lifted however HSE does provide guidance on weight sizes
  • training must be relevant to your company’s working practices
  • training does not negate the need for supervision
  • training does not negate the need for work practices to be regularly reviewed and improvements identified​

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