Did you know that there is no legal maximum weight which can be lifted at work?
That may come as a surprise, particularly considering incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. Incorrect manual handling causes work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) which account for over a third of all workplace injuries. In the UK, work-related MSDs resulted in 6.6 million work days lost in 2017/18 alone (HSE, 2018).
Some of the echo3education team conducted a site visit to a large warehouse distribution centre recently. Observing the workers on the production line made us reflect on the health and safety issues inherent in lifting objects, not just in intensive warehouse conditions but in any workplace, from office to restaurant, construction site to school, because work-related manual handling injuries can happen anywhere people are at work.
Of course, while there may be no legal weight lifting limits, there are suggested guidelines that should inform all business practice. The safe lifting upper limit for men is 25kg, while women should not lift anything heavier than 16kg. It is important to remember that these limits are very broad and must be assessed depending on the uniqueness of each lifting situation. For example, you wouldn’t expect a slim, 5’7” man to be able to lift the same as a 6” weightlifter (male or female!).
It’s also important to take other factors into account, such as how high an object will need to be lifted. If lifting above shoulder height (for example stocking high shelves) men should not be lifting anything heavier than 10kg and women nothing heavier than 7kg. When objects need to be held away from the body, this maximum weight drops again – to 5kg for men and 3kg for women.
So, in summary, it’s important to remember that the recommended maximum weight limit should be adjusted depending on, not just who is doing the lifting, but also how the load is being lifted, how close to the body the weight is held, and how high or how low it is lifted.
It is also important to note that manual handling (and the risk of injury resulting from incorrect manual handling) includes more than just lifting objects. According to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (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”. This load can be an object, person or animal.
So, in addition to generally accepted manual handling guidance, employers also have a legal obligation to manage the risk to their employees. The MHOR 1992 regulations set out a clear ranking of measures for dealing with risks from manual handling, stating that employers must:
– First: avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable by redesigning the task to avoid moving the load or by automating or mechanising the process.
– Second: make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided.
– Third: reduce the risk of injury from those operations so far as is reasonably practicable. Where possible, provide mechanical assistance, for example, a sack trolley or hoist. Where this is not reasonably practicable then explore changes to the task, the load and the working environment.
There are a number of ways to ensure your staff have the appropriate manual handling know how. In house training can be effective, particularly if you have a large number of employees to train at one time. Alternatively, online training offers a flexible and affordable way to ensure all staff are trained, and this can be assigned on a needs basis. Whichever method you choose, you should look for a course that offers comprehensive training, including supporting workers in understanding how manual handling injuries occur and, subsequently, how to avoid them. Training should teach how to conduct safe lifts, for example; team lifts, pushing and pulling, and lifting from heights. Depending on who the training is intended for, you may also want a course that includes how to conduct a manual handling risk assessment.
Considering that pretty much all of us have to lift and carry items at some point during our working week, manual handling training should be a core component of health and safety training for all employees. Remember, lift safely to stay healthy.
Find out more about manual handling training from echo3education here.