Manual Handling: What the Law Says

IOSH By Matthew Coombes

Which law?

In the UK, we have some very effective legislation that highlights the responsibilities of employers and employees in regards to manual handling.

As with most areas of health and safety, there are multiple acts or regulations that apply to this topic, so in this article, we will be breaking down some of the most notable acts and regulations to try and explain what the law says regarding manual handling.

To make things easier, we have broken down this article into two sections, duties that are most applicable to employers and duties that employees should be aware of.

Duties as an employer

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work Act sets out general duties and responsibilities to ensure that you’re effectively managing health and safety in the workplace. In Section 2 of the act that covers these general duties, the employer is required to provide “…systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health”.

This means that if you as an employer ask someone to carry out a manual handling task, you must make sure that they will not be harmed by carrying out the task.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
This is further reinforced by the requirements of the Management Regulations 1999, which states that:

Section 3. – (1) “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of –
(a) “The risks to health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed while they are at work…”
(b) “The risks to health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him or his undertaking,”

The management regulations highlight that you are legally obligated to assess the risks associated with manual handling tasks to all employees, members of the public, contractors and others that may be involved in manual handling operations as a part of your workplace.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
These regulations apply specifically to manual handling operations at work and state that:

Section 4. – (1) “Each employer shall –
(a) So far as is reasonably practicable, avoid the need for his employees to undertake any manual handling operations at work which involve a risk of their being injured…”
(b) “Where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid the need…
(ii) take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to those employees arising from their undertaking any such manual handling operations….”

These three laws show definitively the responsibilities of an employer to ensure that manual handling tasks are carried out safely within the UK. Therefore, failure to properly manage the risks of manual handling is likely to be a breach of these laws, which could be grounds for prosecution under statute law by a prosecuting body such as the Health and Safety Executive, or grounds for an injured party such as an employee to sue those that are in breach under common law and seek damages.

Duties as an employee

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also sets out responsibilities that employees have which are applicable to carrying out manual handling tasks.
The act states:

Section 7 – General duties of employees at work.
“It shall be the duty of every employee while at work –
(a) To take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
(b) As regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.”
To put this law simply, part (a) means that you shouldn’t injure yourself or others through doing something, or not doing something, and part (b) means that you should follow any safety instructions that you’re provided.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
Section 5. “Each employee while at work shall make full and proper use of any system of work provided for his use by his employer in compliance with regulation 4(1)(b)(ii) of these Regulations”

This section highlights that where an employer has provided steps to reduce manual handling risks, the employee must make full and proper use of them.

To apply this legislation practically

If you are instructed to label boxes with the weight of their contents and fail to do so (omissions), or do so incorrectly (acts), and as a result, someone becomes injured because they lifted the box, you may have breached the Health and Safety at Work Act.

If you are instructed on how to lift safely, ignore the instructions, and then end up injured, it may be that you have breached your responsibilities under the act.
If you instruct another person, whether an employee or other (including a member of the public) to lift something, and they become injured as a result of the manual handling, you may have breached your responsibilities under the act.

Note: The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and other legislations mentioned above may use the term “his or himself” to refer to a person’s responsibilities. This is to be interpreted as a non-gender specific term that applies to any person, regardless of gender, as per the Interpretation Act 1978.

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