How do workplace weight-lifting restrictions affect injury claims?

Man with back injury after lifting boxes

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.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling is process of transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. This includes lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving objects or people. Manual handling is a common task in many jobs and can pose a risk of injury if not carried out correctly, particularly to the back, neck, shoulders, and arms. Proper training and techniques are crucial to minimize these risks.

Risk of injury

Handling, lifting and carrying incidents account for 17% of injuries in the workplace (source.

Incorrect handling techniques can lead to a range of musculoskeletal disorders, with the back being particularly vulnerable. These injuries can result from the weight and awkwardness of the object, repetitive movements, poor posture, working in space-restricted environments, or insufficient rest between tasks. Additionally, sudden or unexpected movements, such as shifting loads, can cause strains or sprains.

As the risk of injury is so hight, 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 Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 specify particular weight restrictions, however.

Why don't the regulations specify a maximum safe weight?

The regulations don't specify a maximum safe weight for manual handling, as such a limit would oversimplify the complexity of workplace safety. Relying solely on weight limits might lead employers to ignore other crucial factors of manual handling, such as the nature of the load, the physical capability of the worker, and the work environment.

A more comprehensive approach, including a detailed risk assessment of manual handling tasks, is necessary to ensure worker safety, rather than just adhering to a specific weight threshold. This holistic view acknowledges that safe manual handling involves more than just the weight of the item being handled.

What are an employer's duties under the manual handling regulations?

The regulations 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.

I have been injured while manual handling at work, what should I do?

If you were injured at work in the last 3 years as a result of manual handling, you may be eligible to make a compensation claim.

Find out online if you can claim with our injury claim calculator. Or you can call 0800 376 1001 to speak to a specialist advisor. Find out in minutes if you have a claim.

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Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director