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Manual Handling In Construction


Manual handling in construction has always been an important part of a construction health and safety policy. The nature of the construction industry means that lifting and moving heavy objects is part of the job. Any kind of manual handling task comes with risks. Therefore, any industry or specific job role that requires manual handling must have a robust risk assessment in place to reduce these risks. With construction manual handling, loads can be much greater and the environment much more hazardous. While health and safety law around manual handling has always been very thorough, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently taken further steps to mitigate risks and protect construction workers. This article will explain the specific risks associated with construction manual handling and the new guidance set out by HSE. 

What Is Manual Handling In Construction?

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The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 states that manual handling in construction pertains to the transportation or support of a load using bodily force alone or with help from hand-held equipment. This doesn’t only mean large or heavy objects, but smaller items such as machinery or tools too. Manual handling in construction refers to a wide range of activities that might include:

  • Lifting
  • Lowering
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Carrying

Manual handling is a common risk in many industries, such as warehousing or healthcare, however, the loads and repetitive movements associated with construction manual handling can lead to serious injuries or long-term musculoskeletal injuries in construction workers.

Construction Manual Handling Risks 

While manual handling related injuries are not just limited to construction sites, the specific tasks expected of construction workers do come with some increased risks. Examples of construction manual handling risks include:

  • Heavy Loads – Construction materials can be very heavy, as can construction equipment and tools
  • Posture – Muscle and joint strains can occur when construction workers have to adapt their posture to manage awkward items
  • Repetition – Construction manual handling tasks, like lifting or carrying, can lead to overuse injuries when done repeatedly
  • Uneven Surfaces – There is an increased risks of trips and falls due to uneven terrain on construction sites
  • Limited Space – The busy environment of a construction site can make space more limited, making it harder to manoeuvre and handle loads safely
  • Equipment Faults – If equipment isn’t properly maintained and therefore not working efficiently, it can put added strain on those performing any manual handling in construction 
  • Communication – Inadequate training, failure to go through the risk assessment or not informing workers about safe systems of work can result in manual handling tasks not being carried out safely
  • Overexertion – attempting to lift objects without enough assistance or trying to lift loads that are too heavy can lead to musculoskeletal injuries

Musculoskeletal Injuries In Construction Workers

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Musculoskeletal injuries in construction workers are the most prevalent risks and can have long-term health implications. Musculoskeletal disorders affect the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. They can cause pain, inflammation, stiffness, and limited mobility. Musculoskeletal injuries can go on to cause prolonged disorders including arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis. 

Poor posture, repetitive motions, and muscle and joint overuse can all contribute to musculoskeletal injuries in construction workers. Manual handling in construction means these risks are more common, with a HSE report finding that as many as 42,000 construction workers have suffered from musculoskeletal injuries as a result of their role. Musculoskeletal disorders can stop workers from performing their duties or, in the worst cases, lead to problems walking, standing, or even sitting down.

This is why HSE launched a new initiative in September 2023 for construction workers titled,  Your Health Your Future. The initiative sets out to protect construction workers further, and ensure that construction manual handling processes are properly assessed and measures put in place. Throughout September and October 2023, HSE inspectors planned to inspect construction sites to check that manual handling procedures in place go far enough to protect workers. These inspections aimed to find out if construction workers are:

  • Aware of the risks
  • Planning their work and tasks appropriately to reduce these risks
  • Using the correct control measures when risks cannot be reduced

The Your Health Your Future campaign that has been developed to improve the overall health of construction workers with a focus on manual handling. Construction sites, when managed effectively, can be safe places to work but, with the impact of musculoskeletal injuries being potentially very serious, it’s important to double down on health and safety in construction

Construction Manual Handling Risk Assessments

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In order to keep workers safe when they are carrying out manual handling, construction sites should have a detailed health and safety risk assessment in place. This risk assessment will include a list of the potential risks and ways in which they can be reduced or, if they cannot be reduced, how they can be controlled. It will also likely include method statements that set out exactly how a particular task should be done safely. 

Examples of control measures for construction manual handling include:

  • Using mechanical equipment for heavy loads
  • Using all terrain pallet trucks for uneven surfaces
  • Breaking loads into smaller weights
  • Having multiple people to lift and carry loads
  • Providing proper training on correct posture and form
  • Rotating tasks to minimise repetition and overexertion
  • Taking regular breaks

As well as detailing the necessary measures to reduce risk, protect employees and prevent musculoskeletal disorders in construction workers, a risk assessment needs to be regularly monitored and reviewed. It should also include emergency procedures in case an accident happens, and it needs to be accessible and communicated to employees.

Risk Assessments From Rhino Safety  

With HSE putting renewed emphasis on manual handling in construction, it’s more important than ever to make sure your construction site complies with all current legislation and is thorough enough to really protect your workers. Musculoskeletal disorders in construction workers may not be obvious until some time later. Taking effective measures to prevent problems later in life is essential.

Using health and safety experts ensures that every area of health and safety is covered. The margin for error is greatly reduced when you have your risk assessment taken care of by people who live and breathe health and safety. You can get on with looking after your employees while we look after your construction health and safety audit, training and documentation.

Contact us to find out more about our services, and how we protect you and your workers.

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