Manual handling is any activity where you lower, push, pull, hold or restrain an item. Placing something on a shelf, painting, gardening, cleaning, writing and typing are all examples of manual handling. More people are injured by hazardous manual tasks than by any other workplace hazard.

Some injuries, known as musculoskeletal disorders, include:

  • strains and sprains
  • neck and back injury
  • slips, falls and crush incidents
  • occupational overuse syndrome also known as RSI.

There have also been accidents reported that resulted in:

  • cuts, bruises and broken bones
  • hernias.

People who suffer manual handling injuries may be forced to cope with pain and often struggle to carry out many day-to-day tasks.

When you start a new job someone in your workplace must:

  • inform you of the hazardous manual tasks identified in your role
  • inform you of the controls in place to reduce the risks of hazardous manual tasks
  • give training and instruction on the use of any manual handling aids such as sack trolleys or lifting machines.

The workplace must provide safe work procedures, training and supervision for hazardous manual tasks. Some good ways to reduce injuries are:

  • use lifting aids
  • lighten loads (separate loads into smaller quantities)
  • break up repetitive work with other tasks
  • pace work, allocate time for rest breaks and allow time to get used to a new job
  • do not lift if an item can be moved without lifting.

Risk control measures

Hierarchy of control Examples of control measures
Level 1 Elimination
  • Automate the manual task (such as using remote controls)
  • Deliver goods directly to the point of use to eliminate multiple handling
Level 2 Substitution
  • Replace heavy items with those that are lighter, smaller and/or easier to handle
  • Replace hand tools with power tools to reduce the level of force required to do the task
  • Isolate vibrating machinery from the user, for example, by providing fully independent seating on mobile plant
  • Use mechanical lifting aids
  • Provide workstations that are height adjustable
Level 3 Administrative
  • Rotate workers between different tasks
  • Arrange workflows to avoid peak physical and mental demands towards the end of a shift
Personal protective equipment
  • Heat resistant gloves for handling hot items
  • Shock absorbent shoes for work on hard concrete floors

Everyone is responsible for safe work – so if you're not sure about something, ask someone.

Up next: Hazardous chemicals

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  1. Work health and safety responsibilities
  2. Hazards
  3. Slips, trips and falls
  4. Manual handling
  5. Hazardous chemicals
  6. Noise & hearing loss
  7. Mechanical equipment
  8. Electricity
  9. Take the Safety Check quiz