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Cartoon man lifting boxThe most common cause of occupational ill health in the UK is Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). These currently affect around 1 million people a year and costing society £5.7 billion. MSDs affect the muscles, joints, tendons and other parts of the musculoskeletal system.

When running a business it is important to understand the risks associated with manual handling, and to take appropriate measures to assess and ultimately reduce these risks. Reducing the likelihood of someone in your organisation suffering from MSDs such as back pain has many benefits, and avoids costs and discomfort, or worse.

Manual handling

According to the The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) – Manual Handling is defined as:

“…any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force”

The MHOR 1992 establishes a clear hierarchy of measures for dealing with risks from manual handling. These are:

  • avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable
  • assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
  • reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable.

It could be  a major undertaking to make a detailed assessment of every manual handling operation, and could be wasted effort. Many simple handling operations, for example lifting a small light-weight object occasionally, will involve negligible handling risk.

Risk assessment tools and advice

To help business owners, managers, supervisors and staff to identify situations where a more detailed risk assessment is appropriate the HSE has developed a flow-chart to help people assess and filter out low risk situations and to focus on manual handling tasks where there is greater potential for injury.

A risk assessment will involve judgement, based on experience and take account of additional information such as individual capabilities (factors).

There are also guidelines, standards and requirements set out in the MHOR 1992 (available from HSE Books).

People with knowledge and experience of the handling operations, such as Acorn Health and Safety consultants and trainers, can provide industry specific guidance and specialist advice.