Hazardous manual tasks like lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling heavy loads put workers at risk of serious injury.

How are workers harmed?

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) are injuries or conditions that occur when work demands lead or contribute to their development.

Examples of WRMSDs include strains or sprains, joint or bone injuries, nerve injuries, muscular and vascular disorders resulting from vibration, soft tissue injuries such as hernias, and chronic pain.

There are many work-related risk factors that can contribute to injury including:

  • biomechanical and physical risk factors (for example, heavy loads, working for long periods of time, working in awkward postures)
  • work organisation (for example, how work tasks, equipment, or plant are designed and organised, how shifts are rostered)
  • environmental factors (for example, temperature, lighting, noise)
  • psychosocial factors (for example, high job demands, high workloads, low control over how the work is done)
  • individual factors, (for example, worker age, previous injuries, levels of fatigue).

For more information about WRMSDs and common risk factors that can contribute to injury: Quick guide: Work-related musculoskeletal disorders and risk factors

What can you do?

First, eliminate the risks where you are reasonably able to. Some examples are:

  • redesigning the task or process to eliminate the need for people to handle loads
  • using automated palletisers to load pallets
  • using conveyors to transport products in a warehouse.

Where you are not reasonably able to eliminate the risk, then consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Some examples are:

  • ensuring building layout/design limits the need to push, pull, or carry equipment or loads (for example, good path design, floor surfaces that allow pallets to be moved directly to storage areas)
  • providing appropriate mechanical aids and equipment, and ensuring they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications
  • positioning shelving and racking in storage areas at accessible heights. Have more frequently used items on easy-to-reach shelves, and place lighter loads on the higher and lower shelves, and heavy items in the middle shelves
  • having adjustable work surfaces such as benches, desks, and conveyors, so that workers can adjust the working height to suit them and the task they are doing
  • using overhead hoists to transfer patients in a rest home or hospital
  • ordering stock in smaller containers that are easier to store and lift, or ordering stock in large containers for mechanical handling only
  • ensuring workers are not exposed to repetitive work for long periods, or work that requires a significant amount of high force. Consider if mechanical or robotic equipment could be used instead. If not, organise the work so workers can take short, regular task breaks or rotate workers to less repetitive or physically demanding tasks
  • if lifting must be carried out, organising the work to avoid workers lifting loads from the floor. Aim for lifting to be done between thigh and waist height.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Get your workers involved

  • Ensure your workers know how to make suggestions, ask questions, or raise concerns.
  • Always ask your workers for input on identifying health and safety risks and how to eliminate or minimise them. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good decisions when they have been involved in the conversation. Your workers (including contractors and temps) are the eyes and ears of your business. They can help spot issues, and suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train your workers on what the key risks are and how to keep healthy and safe. 

Find out more about getting your workers involved

Where to go for more information

Our approach to musculoskeletal health

Definitions: Musculoskeletal disorders and work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Quick guide: Work-related musculoskeletal disorders and risk factors

Report: Review of hazardous manual task risk assessments

Manual handling risk filters – Musculoskeletal disorders | Health and Safety Executive, UK(external link)

Manual handling assessment tools | Health and Safety Executive, UK(external link)