Manual handling risk assessments

The University expects all heads of departments to identify manual handling and lifting operations likely to involve a risk of injury and ensure appropriate risk assessments are in place where manual handling cannot be avoided.

The following elements are key to achieving this standard: 

Identify manual handling operations

Many manual handling or lifting operations can be undertaken without any significant risk of injury. Therefore, the first stage to any assessment is to identify those manual handling and lifting operations that are likely to involve such a risk. In order to do this, supervisors should make a general list of activities and then consider whether the [HSE] guidelines can be met. If they can, then it's unlikely that a more detailed assessment will be required.

Use Figure 1 below to make a quick and easy assessment.  Each box contains a guideline weight for lifting and lowering in that zone. The guideline weights are reduced if handling is done with arms extended, or at high or low levels, as that is where injuries are most likely to occur.

Observe the work activity you're assessing and compare it to the diagram. Decide which box or boxes the lifter’s hands pass through when moving the load. Assess the maximum weight being handled. If it's less than the figure given in the box, the operation is within the guidelines. If the lifter’s hands enter more than one box during the operation, use the smallest weight. Use an in-between weight if the hands are close to a boundary between boxes.

The guideline weights assume that the load is readily grasped with both hands and that the operation takes place in reasonable working conditions, with the lifter in a stable body position.


Manual Handling - Lifting and Lowering

Reduce the guideline weight if the handler twists to the side during the operation. As a rough guide, reduce them by 10% if the handler twists beyond 45°, and by 20% if the handler twists beyond 90°.


Frequent Lifting & Lowering

The guideline weights are for infrequent operations – up to about 30 operations per hour – where the pace of work is not forced, adequate pauses to rest or use different muscles are possible, and the load is not supported by the handler for any length of time. Reduce the weights if the operation is repeated more often.

As a rough guide, reduce the weights by 30% if the operation is repeated once or twice per minute, by 50% if the operation is repeated five-to-eight times a minute, and by 80% where the operation is repeated more than 12 times a minute.


Pushing & Pulling

The task is within the guidelines if the following figures are not exceeded:

Activity Men Women
Force to stop or start the load 20 Kg 15 Kg
Sustained force to keep the load in motion 10 Kg 7 Kg


The filters should be used as guides. If there is any uncertainty, a full assessment should be completed.  The HSE indicate that an assessment will always be required when:

  • lifting or lowering takes place with very large forward reaches, lifting below floor level, or lifting above head height
  • the handling is more frequent than one lift every two minutes
  • the handling involves torso twisting
  • team handling occurs
  • the activities are complex
  • the load is difficult to grasp or handle
  • aspects of the working conditions are not favourable
  • the load is not held against the body when carried

If the filters do not indicate a need for a detailed assessment, it is sufficient to record the outcome of this initial assessment within general risk assessments, rather than detailing specific assessments.

Undertake suitable and sufficient risk assessments

In order to be ‘suitable and sufficient’, the manual handling risk assessment must:

  • consider the four risk factors: Load, Individual, Task, and Environment
  • identify people at risk
  • identify what is provided to control the risk
  • identify further action and who needs to carry it out
  • documented

Set a review date, no later than 13 months after the initial assessment.

Where a more detailed assessment is required, record the details of those involved. Ensure those who are in control of the activity are involved in the assessment and wherever possible, consult those who are expected to undertake the activity. If individuals are not trained in the process of risk assessment or the risks are complex, then it will also be appropriate to engage the department’s manual handling risk assessor.

Consider the four different risk factors. This can either be done as a subjective exercise to identify key issues or by using one of the HSE’s assessment tools for a more detailed assessment: 


Notice: Suitable and Sufficient Risk Assessments

As with all risk assessments the level of detail in the assessment should be proportionate to the risks identified, so as to be ‘suitable and sufficient’



The four risk factors are:

  • load (heavy, bulky, unwieldy, unstable, sharp or difficult to grasp)
  • individual capability (strength of person, male or female, age, existing health issues)
  • task (pushing, pulling or carrying, posture, distance, repetition, number of people)
  • environment (space around the operation, type of flooring, temperature, lighting, requirement for bulky PPE)

Once you've identified the hazards and completed the risk analysis, taking into account any existing control measures, identify and record the actions required to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable.

Once you've identified the required actions, outline these in a workable action plan, identifying specific individuals or groups who will need to implement those actions, and the timeframe within which they are to be completed.

Once this has been completed, obtain a signature of approval for the risk assessment. This should be a relevant supervisor (i.e. person with overall control over the activity). This is especially important where risks identified as Medium or High cannot be reduced to Low.

Assign a frequency of review. For those activities where the risk factors can regularly change or where the risks have not been reduced to Low, then this should be annually.