8. Mechanical and manual handling

Items that are not intrinsically hazardous can become so when we try to lift, lower or move them. This is the case whether we are using mechanical devices or doing it manually, usually due to gravity and momentum.

Mechanical lifting and lowering

Objects can be lifted or lowered using a number of different types of equipment including:

  • Block and tackle;
  • Lift truck;
  • Crane;
  • Hoist;
  • Scissor lift;
  • Dumb waiter;
  • Personnel lift (i.e. connecting floors in building).

Additional equipment is often required to attach and suspend the load including chains, rope and slings. In some cases this equipment can be ‘wrapped around’ the object. In other cases eyebolts, hooks or shackles are required to allow attachment.

Mechanical lifting hazards

There are a number of way people can be harmed when items are being lifted or lowered. Dropping the load is clearly of great concern, and this can be caused by:

  • Failure of slings, chains, rope;
  • Failure of securing point on load;
  • Failure of lifting equipment;
  • Crane or other equipment toppling;
  • Swinging load;
  • People being in the wrong place (i.e. no failure of equipment).

There are additional hazards during lifting including the possibility of the load or lifting lines colliding with or being snagged on other equipment, including power cables.

Safe use of mechanical equipment for lifting

The following need to be considered when planning and carrying out a lift:

  • The load – weight, centre of gravity, size, vulnerability to being blown around by the wind;
  • Selecting lifting equipment – capacity, reach, means of travel and manoeuvrability with the load, visibility, potential for engine to act as ignition source and ventilation of fumes;
  • Inspecting equipment before lift;
  • Attachment method – strength of slings and any anchor points, and potential for damage caused by the load (e.g. sharp edges);
  • Lifting method – lifting and lowering at a suitable, slow speed, use of tag lines to control the load when suspended;
  • Personnel – competent driver/or operator, need for banksman and their competence;
  • Adjacent hazards;
  • Weather;
  • Communication – typically with banksman or two-way radio in some situations (although this needs careful consideration as it cannot be 100% reliable);
  • Protecting people and plant under suspended loads.

Lift trucks

Lift Trucks come in many shapes and sizes. They usually have ‘fork lifts’ but other types of lifting attachment can be used including clamp, crane jib, hopper etc. They are generally considered as a special type of vehicle from a health and safety perspective because there are a number of hazards associated with their use.

Types of lift truck

Types of truck include:

  • Front loading with counterweight at rear;
  • Forward reaching;
  • Telescopic boom;
  • Side loader with deck;
  • Lift truck with no driver – operator walks behind.

Smaller lift trucks may have solid tyres, and are only suitable for flat and smooth surfaces. Larger trucks have pneumatic tyres and can be used on different terrain.

Truck engines can be battery, LPG, petrol or diesel.

Lift trucks can, in certain circumstances, be used to provide an elevated work platform. This is not a normal activity and requires special controls.

Lift truck hazards

The hazards associated with lift trucks are largely the same as for other vehicles. However, they do have particular vulnerabilities including:

  • Loads may not be properly secure;
  • They are unstable when loads are elevated;
  • Loads can be dropped;
  • They can tip over side-ways when cornering at speed;
  • They can tip forwards if overloaded;
  • Potential to hit overhead structures, cables etc with mast elevated;
  • Hazards associated with charging batteries (battery powered trucks);
  • Moving mechanisms that can trap;
  • General issues with engines including hot surfaces and fumes.

Lift truck driver competence

It is not possible to engineer out all the hazards associated with using lift trucks, without them losing some of the capabilities that are important to business. Therefore, there is a high reliance on driver competence to minimise risks. There is an Approved Code of Practice for use of lift trucks in the UK, which includes the following:

  • Drivers must be authorised for the specific types of lift truck they are to use;
  • Organisations are required to ensure their drivers continuously maintain necessary standards;
  • Refresher training is one way of maintaining standards;
  • Good supervision is essential.

There are a number of approved training providers in the UK for drivers of lift trucks.

Lift truck ‘daily’ checks

It is good practice for users of lift trucks (as with all vehicles) to carry out regular checks of the condition of their vehicle. For lift trucks the checks should include

  • Tyres – pressure, tread, damage;
  • Lights;
  • Horn;
  • Engine condition including leaks of oil, fuel, hydraulic;
  • Security of seat;
  • Lifting mechanism – no damage;
  • LPG tank in good condition – no damage and secure;
  • Bodywork not damaged.

Safety when lift trucks are not in use

When not in use the following should be done to minimise risks:

  • Apply brakes;
  • Park in designated area (if there is one);
  • Make sure it is not causing an obstruction for other vehicles and pedestrians;
  • Make sure it is not blocking emergency escapes and exits;
  • Forks on ground;
  • Mast slightly forward;
  • Neutral gear;
  • All controls in neutral position (so mechanism does not move when switched on);
  • Unauthorised use prevented – may involve removing ignition keys, but in some circumstances it may be necessary to leave keys in so can be moved in an emergency in which case rules regarding use of trucks must be very clear.

Reference – Approved Code of Practice L117 ‘Rifer Operated Lift Trucks’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l117.pdf


Cranes are an obvious form of mechanical lifting device. There are different types including:

  • Mobile (i.e. self-propelled vehicle);
  • Tower (temporarily built on site);
  • Overhead gantry (suspends load below – e.g. lifting and moving containers);
  • Fixed jib (may see unloading ships at docks or on oil platform).

In selecting a crane it is important to consider what is to be lifted, how far and high, and how often. Also, any restrictions in using equipment due to its size or engine type (e.g. ignition source and fumes). When considering mobile cranes it is important to assess the ground condition and how it may affect stability.

Mechanical lifting regulations

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) cover:

  • Ensuring lifting equipment is up to the job and visibly marked to demonstrate its suitability;
  • Lifting equipment is positioned to minimise risk;
  • Lifting operations are planned, supervised and carried out in a safe manner by people who are competent;
  • Equipment used for lifting people is safe for the purpose;
  • The Condition of equipment is checked before use and at suitable intervals.

The regulations require people to be competent in planning and supervising lifts, as well as operating the equipment and attaching loads. They will be competent because of their theoretical knowledge and practical experience

Reference – ‘Simple guide to the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg290.pdf

Reference – Approved Code of Practice L113 ‘Safe use of lifting equipment. Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l113.pdf

Manual handling

Manual handling is any activity that requires the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, hold or move an object. Those objects can be animate (people and animals) or inanimate.

Manual handling hazards

The following factors affect the likelihood of injury from manual handling:

  • Weight of load;
  • Frequency of handling;
  • Size of load;
  • Ease of getting hold of the item;
  • Distance of load from body;
  • Height of lift (most hazardous when low down or high up);
  • Requirement to twist or bend sideways;
  • Physical restrictions in the area that affect persons posture when lifting;
  • Load moving, slipping, jolting any way.

Other factors can affect the risk including a slippery floor or uncomfortable working environment (temperature, lighting etc.). Also, if the object has sharp edges or is hot or cold as this will affect how people take hold and lift.

Managing the risks of manual handling

The four factors to consider when evaluating and managing the risk of manual handling are:

  • Task;
  • Individual – strength and size;
  • Load – size, shape, weight;
  • Environment.

As for all risk management, the first thing to do is to consider whether the manual handling activity can be eliminated; either by not having to move the load at all or through the use of lifting aids.

Next, can the risks be reduced by changing the task or rearranging equipment or the workplace? Things to consider include can the load be kept at the same level throughout the task (i.e. do not put on floor between activities), can the flow of work change so people do not need to twist or bend, can the flow be changed so the distances involved are reduced?

It is important to monitor health and injury statistics to pick if manual handling may be a problem. People under stress (maybe caused by boring jobs or unrealistic demands) may be more likely to have problems.

Use of mechanical aids

Possibilities to remove or reduce manual handling risks include:

  • Lifting equipment (e.g. fork lift truck);
  • Push/pull trolleys and trucks;
  • Pallet movers and lifters;
  • Lifting surfaces (e.g. back of truck, bench);
  • Tool boxes on wheels;
  • Conveyor belts;
  • Counter-weighted equipment.

Where people are being handled (e.g. health services) aids are available to assist with getting in and out of bed or the bath, and going up or down stairs.

Manual handling training

The aim of training is to explain the problem and give people the skills needed to avoid injury. It should cover:

  • How the back and other parts of body function and hence get injured;
  • Assessing a load (weight, size, location etc.) before attempting to lift or move;
  • How to avoid manual handling wherever possible;
  • How to lift and move objects safely.

Safe manual handling procedure

Lifting safely involves

  • Think before lifting;
  • Plan route;
  • Position feet properly;
  • Keep load close to waist – bend knees;
  • Make sure the body is steady and stable;
  • Get a good hold;
  • Start in a good posture (straight back) – bend knees;
  • Keep back straight whilst lifting;
  • Avoid twisting and turning;
  • Keep head up;
  • Move smoothly;
  • Put down and adjust when necessary rather than struggling on.

Manual handling regulations

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (amended 2002). Cover all manual handling.

Employers are required to:

  • Avoid hazardous manual handling so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • Assess risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling;
  • Reduce risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employee’s duties include:

  • Follow appropriate systems of work laid down for their safety;
  • Make proper use of equipment provided;
  • Co-operate with their employer;
  • Inform employer if they identify any hazardous handling activity;
  • Ensure actions do not harm others.

Reference – ‘Manual handling at work – A brief guide’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg143.pdf

Reference – Approved Code of Practice L23 ‘Manual handling. Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended)’ available free at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l23.pdf

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