A manual handling operation is any transporting or supporting of a load, including the lifting, lowering, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving by hand. Picking up and carrying a toolbox or a step ladder or even picking up a screwdriver or hammer, is manual handling, just as unloading and positioning a boiler might be. Anything from the extremely light to something requiring your maximum strength is included.

Manual handling accounts for a large number of accidents each year. Lost time is often due to back and other musculoskeletal injuries. Once someone’s back has been weakened by injury it is often a recurring problem for the rest of that person’s life.

Potential back strain situations include, but are not limited to:

  • Exposure to handling loads (lifting, carrying, and pushing), repetitive handling work, static and awkward posture, twisting, bending, or stretching at the extreme range of movement.
  • Handling heavy, bulky, difficult to grasp, unpredictable, or difficult to handle (such as sharp, slippery) loads.

Most of us perform some sort of lifting every day. Always make use of any information, tools, or services provided in connection with manual handling.

Whenever possible, avoid the need for manual handling. When it’s time for lifting remember your mechanical advantage. That means that any time you can use a machine instead of muscle to perform a lift, then you should. If mechanical lifting devices are not available or if the item to be lifted is light enough to handle, make sure that you lift the object safely.

Reducing Risk

Control options to reduce risk include, but are not limited to, the following:

Modifying the Load – Redistribute or repackage the load into smaller sizes to reduce the weight.

Modifying Workplace Layout – The layout of the area, equipment, and furniture may be modified or rearranged. This may include increased attention to housekeeping.

Rearranging Materials Flow – Schedule deliveries to avoid having to handle multiple shipments at one time.

Different Actions or Movements – With or without workplace modifications, a task may be done in a different way using different actions and movements.

Mechanical Assistance – The risk of a task may be reduced by simple mechanical assistance provided by simple levers or fulcrums and minor rearrangements of the equipment.

Team Lifting – The actions and movements required can be modified with the assistance of others.

Mechanical Handling Equipment – The provision of mechanical handling equipment can reduce the risk by reducing the force required.  Hand trucks, hoists and carts are options.

Physical Condition – Pre-shift bending/stretching/getting limber is strongly recommended. Building flexibility into job design and taking necessary rest breaks can reduce risk of injury.

If after evaluating control options, lifting must be done then follow these steps:

Pre-Task Planning

Before you lift something … think it through. Consider the following:

  • Can I lift it alone?
  • Do I need mechanical help?
  • Is it too heavy or too awkward for one person to handle?
  • Should I ask a co‐worker for help?
  • Where will you put the load?
  • Is the path clear of obstacles and slip or trip hazards?  The load should not impede your forward view.
  • Is reaching above shoulder height involved?
  • Does the object have sharp edges or contain hot/cold materials?
  • Are there any forces applied to move the object, apart from lifting, such as pushing, pulling, and restraining/holding?

Proper Lifting Technique

By using the following techniques, you can lift safely and save your back from accidental strain and injury:

  • Keep your back aligned while you lift.
  • Tuck chin in. This keeps back as straight as possible and therefore least vulnerable.
  • Place feet as close to load as possible, about a hip‑width apart, one foot slightly in front.
  • Take a full grip, using palms, not fingertips. Wear gloves if necessary to protect your hands.
  • Bend your knees, not your waist. This helps you keep your center of balance and lets the strong muscles in your legs do the lifting.
  • “Hug” the load. Try to hold the object you’re lifting as close to your body as possible, as you gradually straighten your legs to a standing position.
  • With elbows tucked in, straighten the legs, lifting smoothly.
  • Carry the load forward at waist height.
  • Avoid twisting. Twisting can overload your spine and lead to serious injury. Make sure your feet, knees, and torso are pointed in the same direction when you are lifting.
  • Change direction by turning on your feet, not by twisting the trunk.
  • Setting a Load – utilize the same techniques when setting a load down.

If in doubt, get help! There is nothing macho about a slipped disc!

It takes no more time to do a safe lift than to do an unsafe lift, so why not play it safe and lift right!