What are the weight-lifting restrictions in the workplace?

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The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 set standards to assess what is and is not safe to lift at work. However, the Regulations do not impose specific weight restrictions.

Manual handling injuries

Manual handling refers to the lifting, lowering, raising, pushing, and carrying of items. Almost 4 out of 10 work injuries are caused by manual handling accidents.

Repetitive lifting, awkward postures, working in space-restricted environments and heavy unit loads are all risk factors when carrying out manual handling tasks.

The prevention and control of manual handling accidents have been identified as priorities by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Neither the HSE nor the regulations specify particular weight restrictions, however. Such restrictions would be too simplistic and could lead employers to adopt overly simplistic or inadequate safety procedures.

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What are an employer's duties under the Manual Handling Regulations?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to:

  • Eliminate manual handling tasks where reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risk of injury from any manual handling operation that cannot be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury (if the risk cannot be removed). For example, the employer may reduce the time spent on manual handling tasks or provide suitable equipment such as wheelbarrows, hoists, and forklift trucks

Assessing manual handling risks

When assessing the risks associated with a manual handling task, employers should consider the following 5 factors:

  • The nature of the task: Does the task involve excessive movement, frequent lifting, lowering, twisting or poor posture?
  • The nature of the load: Is the load heavy, bulky, difficult to grasp with both hands, sharp-edged, or unstable?
  • The environment: Is the work area cramped, poorly lit, slippery, or unevenly surfaced?
  • The capability of the individual: Is the worker fit and able to carry out the task? Do they have previous or existing injuries that might be aggravated?
  • Other factors: Are handling aids and equipment suitable for the job? Would the risk be mitigated with training or more achievable workloads or deadlines?

While employers must also consider the weight of an item being lifted or carried, the regulations do not specify a maximum permitted weight load for manual handling tasks.

Why don't the Regulations specify a maximum weight?

The concern is that providing safe weight limits for lifting and carrying would be almost arbitrary. Employers would be able to claim compliance by adhering to prescriptive weight limits alone, rather than focussing on risk assessing the overall suitability of a manual handling operation.

The weight of an item is only one factor that determines whether a load can be lifted and transported safely. Each of the above 5 factors must be carefully considered by employers.

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Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director