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Manual handling

Facts and figures - What is the problem?

Although there has been a downward trend in the total number of work-related MSDs over the last 10 years, there were still 553,000 reported cases in 2014/15, leading to over 9.5 million working days lost. 1

The industry areas with the highest estimated rates of back disorders are in agriculture, health care industries, construction and postal and courier activities. 1

By occupation elevated rates of musculoskeletal disorders are seen in occupations that are common across the above industries (such as health and caring occupations; skilled agricultural and construction trades; and postal workers), and also in some occupations common across other industries (such as manufacturing and public administration and defence).

Managing risk

There is no cure for a damaged back and yet this message fails to get across, if people knew and truly understood this crucial fact, they would take better care of themselves and each other. This applies equally to employers, why then, do they not take their responsibilities in this matter seriously?

One reason for this lack of response might be that back injuries are perceived as being less dramatic and somehow less serious than other types of injury.

It is, therefore vital - set against the alarming number of back injuries with their resulting pain and number of working days lost right across Europe - that basic preventative and prophylactic messages are got across to employers, employees, and the medical profession.

Training staff in good manual handling practice is generally been perceived to be the best way of preventing back injury, but it is increasingly clear that, while training remains important, taking an holistic view of the problem and managing the risk effectively is the way forward.

Barriers to safer manual handling include:

  • lack of resources
  • lack of understanding by senior management
  • insufficient focus on risk management
  • lack of a common approach to and standardisation of training and techniques.

Cases of manual handling injury can have severely disabling consequences and should be regarded as just as serious as other kinds of more clearly visible serious injury due to accidents.

More work is needed to highlight:

  • the prevalence of manual handling injuries;
  • what they mean for individual sufferers in particular cases;
  • their economic consequences and their preventability.

There are clear legal requirements for employers to take action. Clear standards and guidance have been set and numerous training and technologically based solutions have been established.

Where employers are manifestly failing to respond to their duties of care, appropriate enforcement action should be taken.

Best practice

Employers should seek to move beyond legal compliance and reach 'best practice' in their management of work related risks to employees, contractors and members of the public.


  • Training
    Before attempting to train anyone, trainers must take the time and trouble to find out how workers are actually working and get to understand the types of environment in which they were expected to operate whether this be in hospitals, out at the site of road traffic accidents, special schools, in industry etc.
  • Accident investigation
    Information about the immediate and underlying causes of back injuries is often simply not collected by employers. And if it is, it will often not provide adequate information about what the person had been doing at the time; whether or not this was the individual's regular job etc. But all back injuries to staff should be investigated so that the appropriate lessons could be learned by management.
  • Standardisation of approach/networking
    It would appear that all those sectors which involve the carrying, lifting and handling of people (for example; nurses, paramedics, social workers, those working with children, fire fighters, policemen etc) are all using different techniques not only across different sectors but within the same sector but working for different authorities. People must talk to each other since only in this way can good practice be spread.

Content based on the report from the: 'People Handling Summit' convened by RoSPA on 20 October 2000. View Report and Background papers Safer People Handling (PDF 48kb)



HSE Website:

HSE publications:


RoSPA Safer People Handling Training Courses
RoSPA Manual Handling Training Courses


  1. At a glance guide to Health and Safety Statistics 2014/15, HSE
  2. Musculoskeletal Disorders in Great Britain 2013

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