What are the weight-lifting restrictions in the workplace?

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.

Almost four out of every ten accidents that result in a three-day injury at work are caused by manual handling - meaning the lifting and transporting of goods by hand.

Repetitive lifting, awkward postures, working in a space-restricted environment and heavy unit loads are all risk factors implicated in the occurrence of a manual handling accident.

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

No specific weight restrictions have been identified in support of this prevention and control, as it is felt that such restrictions would be based on too simplistic a view of the problem, and may lead employers to adopt incorrect or inadequate safety procedures.

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

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to:

  • Eliminate a manual handling operation where this is reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risk of injury from any manual handling operation that cannot be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury, for example, by reducing the time spent on manual handling tasks or using aids such as wheelbarrows, hoists and forklift trucks

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

  • The nature of the task - does it involve excessive movement, frequent lifting, lowering or twisting or poor posture?
  • The nature of the load - is it 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 injury that might be aggravated?
  • Other factors - are handling aids the correct type for the job? Might training, or more achievable workloads or deadlines, reduce the risk of injury?

While employers must 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 giving "safe" weight limits for lifting and carrying may encourage employers to focus on those limits rather than 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 five factors must be examined closely for possible safety improvements.

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