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Manual handling - How to reduce manual handling injuries in the workplace

By Lara Wood
Rehabilitation Consultant

Who’s at risk of a moving and handling injury?

Anyone involved in the moving and handling of goods could be at risk, even those involved in moving lighter loads if they involve repetitive and forceful tasks.

It is estimated that 80% of people will experience back pain at some time in their life. In manual labour jobs, back pain is the number one reason for long term sickness in the UK. The NICE guidelines 2009 estimated the cost of care for low back pain to exceed £500 million per year in the private sector, with NHS incurring costs of over £1 billion. Lost production as a result of low back pain costs at least £3.5 billion per year. Poor posture, degenerative changes and ineffective manual handling techniques represent some of the many different causal factors. By applying an understanding of the mechanical structure of the back, ergonomic controls and training adopting sound anatomical principles can help keep occupational illness and injury to a minimum. With the risks correctly managed, injuries can be prevented and impacts minimised where symptoms are reported early and rehabilitation provided.

What do employers need to consider?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 are the main, but not exclusive, provision requiring employers to avoid the need for employees to undertake manual handling operations. Where this is not practical or possible, then employers are required to carry out a risk assessment taking into account the load, individual, task and environment, and introduce controls as to minimise the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. ‘Residual risk’ must be managed by ‘lower order’ controls such as employing ergonomic principles to working practices, the use of mechanical and lifting aids, and training and supervision.

For more information view our Manual Handling Risk Management Standards and Manual Handling Issues Forum

Engage with occupational health and rehabilitation services

Employees’ fitness, health and capability should be considered when matching them to the tasks they are asked to perform – preferably via an occupational health provider for high risk activities. Organisations should also review facilities to manage employees appropriately and safely when returning to work following absence or an accident. We offer a variety of case management and rehabilitation services to our clients to help in these areas.

Our five points

  1. Best practice is to adopt a hierarchical approach to identify, analyse, avoid and reduce manual handling activities. Where controls have been adopted but ‘residual risk’ remains, employers should conduct a risk assessment taking into account the load, individual, task and environment, and introduce controls to minimise the risk as far as is reasonably practicable.
  2. Manual handling training needs to be assessed, addressed, and incorporated as part of a documented safe system of work. This will include training in the use of handling aids and equipment provided for high risk tasks.
  3. Training programmes should be based on risk assessments and safe systems of work, ensuring that ergonomic and anatomical principles are understood and correct manual handling techniques applied. Training should be engaging, achievable and bespoke to the situation or task, focusing on reducing acute and cumulative pressures on the body.
  4. The workforce should be properly engaged and participate in the risk assessment process, selection of controls and subsequent reviews.
  5. Systems for the early reporting and investigation of injuries related to suspected causative work activities should  be in place. Case management and rehabilitation facilities should be used where appropriate.  Procedures should be applied following any accident, to manage employees appropriately and safely back to work.
  6. Our risk managers and rehabilitation team provide bespoke solutions and innovative approaches to manual handling issues.

The HSE has developed some free risk assessment tools for a number of these tasks. Available at

Your contact

Your contact

Lara Broadwell

Lara Broadwell

Senior Rehabilitation Consultant

Tel: +44 (113) 2906289