Section 9 - What is Manual Handling?

Manual handling means more than just lifting or carrying something.
The term 'manual handling' is used to describe a range of activities including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, moving, holding or restraining an object, animal or person,
It also covers activities which require the use of force or effort such as pulling a lever, or operating power tools.

What is the problem?

Up to one third of all work injuries in Australia occur during manual handling.

Most of the reported accidents involving manual handling tasks cause back injury although hands arms and feet are also vulnerable. Sometimes the person injured never fully recovers or requires a long period of rehabilitation before they are able to work again.

How do you know if there is a risk of manual handling injuries occurring in your workplace?

A risk situation can arise when tasks are poorly designed or where handling involves awkward or constrained postures. These conditions can make it difficult for you to use good handling techniques.

Some examples of actions that may cause manual handling injuries are:

  1. work involving sudden, jerky or hard to control movements or which causes discomfort and pain;
  2. work involving too much bending, reaching or twisting;
  3. work where a long time is spent holding the same posture or position;
  4. work that is fast and repetitious;
  5. heavy weights which have to be lifted and carried manually;
  6. work where force is needed to carry out a task;


Ask yourself the following questions to assist in recognising manual handling risks in your workplace:

  1. Does the workplace layout make it difficult for people to maintain correct posture?
  2. Are there any jobs which involve frequent manual handling - the risk will be greater where handling is required often, at a fast pace and for long periods of time.
  3. Are the loads to be handled below your mid-thigh or above your shoulder - heavy or awkward loads or items that are moved frequently should not be stored at these levels.
  4. How much does the load weigh?
  5. Does the load require the use of force to move it or hold it still while handling it?
  6. Are any of the loads you move difficult to handle because their shape, contents or their own ability to move themselves?
  7. Are there sufficient staff to meet deadlines and allow for rest breaks?
  8. Is the flooring in your workplace uneven or slippery?
  9. Is your workplace excessively hot, cold or humid?
  10. Is the lighting adequate?
  11. If you need to wear particular work clothes such as a uniform or protective equipment do they restrict movement or posture?
  12. Have the staff been properly trained for the tasks?

Warning signs to look out for include excessive fatigue, bad posture, cramped or untidy work areas, awkward or heavy loads, or a history of manual handling injuries in particular work areas.

It is important to take into account all of the factors listed above when you are assessing the likelihood of injury.

What needs to be done?

Your employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.

The national standard for manual handling requires that all tasks in your workplace which involve manual handling are identified and that the risk or likelihood of injury is assessed.

Where there is a risk of injury, suitable "control measures" must be introduced; Control measures need to be suitable and practical.
They might include:

  1. redesigning the task or load that needs to be moved;
  2. providing mechanical handling devices such as hoists or trolleys;
  3. safe work procedures such as team lifting; or
  4. specific training for particular handling tasks.

As an employee, if you are aware of anything in your workplace which could be a manual handling risk, you should discuss it with your manager or supervisor and try to find the best way of eliminating or reducing it. Also talk to your health and safety representative or notify your health and safety committee if your workplace has one.
Practical Solutions

Below are some suggested solutions which might be agreed to deal with the problems you have identified.

Controlling the risk

The best way to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries is to redesign the task or work area to make it safer. There are a number of ways to do this:

Modify the object

For example, change the shape of bulky objects so that they are easier to hold, or pack products in smaller cartons.

Modify the work area or workstation layout

For example, use an adjustable platform to reduce stooping and reaching and ensure work surfaces are at the correct height.

Change the way things are moved

Eliminate unnecessary handling. Ensure that all heavy objects are at waist level where they can be handled comfortably.

Use different actions, movements and forces

Reducing the amount of bending, lifting, twisting, reaching and holding required to carry out a task will reduce the risk of injury.

Modify the task:

Modify the task by using tools such as levers, hooks or crowbars or by team lilting.

If none of these options can be used, then mechanical handling equipment like fork-lifts, cranes and hoists may be needed.

Ongoing evaluation is an important part of the risk control process. Check that risk control measures are effective and change them if they are not effective.


Part of your employer's responsibility to provide workers with a safe and healthy workplace involves the provision of training and information about safe working practices.

In relation to reducing the risk of a manual handling injury, this might involve providing training and information on correct work methods, such as lifting techniques and the correct use of mechanical aids.

Supervisors and managers, health and safety representatives and staff responsible for work organisation and job and task design should also receive training.

As an employee you have a responsibility to follow procedures for working safely, and to use any protective equipment which has been provided for your use.


Materials handling - Occupational health and safety encompasses many areas.

People automatically think about the safety of the  working environment  in terms of the individual and how plant and equipment is positioned and operated.

Whilst the work environment is important, it can only be as safe as the materials being used, handled, stored and transformed within it.

Materials handling incorporates the physical materials - how they are transported, and stored.

It also includes the processes undertaken in any manufacturing system together with the impact of these processes on the health and safety of the workers.

Hazardous Substances Regulation 1996 provides information about legislation and the implications for personnel, training in risk assessment and information for those working with hazardous materials where risks should be assessed, controlled and recorded.

WorkCover assists companies in the development of risk management procedures for hazardous materials.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are the basic source for all hazardous materials containing risk and safety information.

The MSDS is required under the Hazardous Substance Regulation to be supplied by manufactures and suppliers. The MSDS contains;

  1. Name and address of the manufacturer and or supplier
  2. Contact information in case of emergency
  3. Name of the product, trade, commercial or chemical
  4. Classification with Hazchem code or poisons schedule

Dangerous Goods Legislation provides information regarding storage labelling, licensing and the transport of dangerous goods.

Manual and automated handling

Work-related back injury is the largest area of concern to our medical and insurance system. National data estimates that 95% of injuries in the workplace are preventable and that a reduction of up to 80% can be achieved through risk management.

Further information can be found by reference to,
Part 4.4, Chapter 4 on the WorkCover web site
Part 4.4- deals with manual handling. This part sets out the responsibilities of employers to identify, assess and eliminate or control risks arising from all forms of manual handling. This includes moving animate or inanimate objects, the use of equipment and all forms of bodily movement.