Manual Handling in Construction Work
Where it is not possible to avoid manual handling of a load, employers must look at the risks of that task and put sensible health and safety measures in place to prevent and avoid injury.
The term manual handling covers a wide variety of activities including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying. Good posture and lifting techniques can help reduce the risks, but research indicates that making changes to workplace design is the most effective way to prevent manual handling injury.
Regularly lifting, carrying or handling materials and items can cause serious injuries. The result of poor manual handling techniques can lead to injuries in the back, arms, knees and other body parts. Manual handling injuries can have serious implications for the employer and the person who has been injured. They can occur almost anywhere in the workplace and heavy manual labour.
Statistics show that handling is the most common over 7-day injury in the construction industry and accounts for over 1.2 million working days lost (UK). To help prevent manual handling injuries in the workplace you should avoid such tasks as far as possible. However, where it is not possible to avoid handling a load, employers must look at the risks of that task and put sensible health and safety measures in place to prevent and avoid injury.
Construction sites have many different materials that need assembling or moving from one place to another. For any lifting activity always take into account:
- Individual capability
- Work organization
- the nature of the load
After assessing the severity of the risk, think about the best possible way to eliminate or minimise manual handling hazards. Some controls include:
- Modifying equipment to eliminate difficult lifts, e.g. MIG welding units eliminate the lifting of difficult gas cylinders.
- Storing loads at waist height to reduce bending, stretching and twisting the body to reach loads. For example, do assembly work on trestles or benches instead of the floor.
- Providing trolleys, wheel sets or skates to handle large and awkward loads.
- Organising the delivery and storage of materials to reduce the distance loads are carried.
- Keeping floor surfaces clear and free of obstacles to provide enough space.
- Ensuring there is suitable lighting and a clear route to where you are taking the load.
- Do not carry a load that will block your vision.
- Working activity should be matched to the individual’s personal fitness level.
- Warming up before any manual handling is done. This is especially important at the beginning of the day and after an extended break, as muscles cool down.
- Considering on-site glazing of joinery to minimise the weight of an item.
- Asking for help with carrying a load or move the load in stages, while taking necessary breaks.
- Wearing suitable clothing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and safety boots to protect against cuts and crushed toes etc.
Manual handling tips:
- Stand reasonably close to the load, feet hip-width apart with one foot slightly forward pointing in the direction going forward.
- Knees should be bent while maintaining good posture.
- Get a secure grip on the load and use handles if provided.
- Breathe in before commencing the lift.
- Carry out the lift smoothly using the legs to take the strain, keeping the back straight, chin up, and arms close to the body.
- Step off in the direction the advanced foot is pointing, keeping the load close to the body.
- If necessary, stop for rests.
- Avoid any jerky or twisting movements to avoid back/body strain.
It’s a good idea to write up a manual handling policy, as it helps to plan for any lifting work and reinforces positive expectations for workers.