Handling Loads

Manual Handling

The Manual Handling of Loads Regulations relate to the handling, transporting and supporting of loads by employees.  This includes lifting, putting down, pushing, carrying or, pulling a load, which by reason of its characteristics or ergonomic conditions, involves the risk of injury, particularly back injury.

Manual handling of load as is any transporting or supporting of a load, including lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving, which involves a risk particularly of back injury. The HSA Guide suggests solutions to manual handling issues.

The Regulations set out risk factors relating to loads which must be assessed.  The characteristics of the load, the physical effort, the working environment and the requirements of the activity should be considered.  Factors relative to the individual should also be considered.

Handling Loads

Employers should do everything they can to avoid the need for the manual handling of loads by workers. If it is not possible for the work to be carried out safely, arrangements for help and backup must be put in place. The employer must provide workers with the means to reduce risk, by:

  • organising workstations to make handling as safe as possible;
  • assessing, in advance if possible, the health and safety conditions of the type of work, in particular load characteristics;
  • avoiding or reducing the risk particularly of back injury, by doing whatever is possible, bearing in mind the working environment and the activity;
  • ensuring workers have information on the weight, and weight distribution, of a load; and
  • ensuring proper training, consultation and participation of workers on handling loads, and the potential risks.

Control measures could include communications, automatic devices, periodic checks, health surveillance, first aid kits, standard operation procedures and securing the place of work. Training may be critical to avoid risks.

Direct Risks

Load lifting is a particular cause of back injury.  Back injury is risked if the load is:

  • too heavy or too large;
  • unwieldy or difficult to grasp;
  • unstable or has contents likely to shift;
  • positioned requiring manipulation at a distance from the body, or requiring the body to twist or move; or
  • inherently likely to result in injury, particularly if there is a collision.

Physical effort may risk injury, if it is:

  • too strenuous;
  • only achieved by twisting the body;
  • likely to result in a sudden movement of the load; or
  • made with the body in an unstable posture.

Indirect Risks

The work environment may increase risk if:

  • there is not enough room to carry out the activity;
  • there are variations in floor level, or it is unstable, uneven or slippery;
  • conditions prevent the handling of loads at a safe height or with good posture; or
  • the temperature, humidity or ventilation is unsuitable.

The activity may present a risk if it involves:

  • excessive effort involving in particular the spine;
  • insufficient rest or recovery period;
  • excessive lifting, lowering or carrying distances; or
  • a rate of work imposed by a process which cannot be altered by the worker.
  • The worker may be at risk if she/he:
  • is physically unsuited to carry out the task;
  • is wearing unsuitable clothing; or
  • has inadequate knowledge or training.

Steps Required to be Taken

Appropriate steps should be taken and mechanical equipment provided, to avoid manual handling, where possible. The employer must examine whether handling and loading may be automated or eliminated by alternative arrangements or by use of mechanical devices or vehicles. If so, those alternatives should be used.

Where manual handling cannot be avoided, employers must take organisational measures and take appropriate measures to reduce the risks.  They must provide employees with the means to reduce the risks.

Sensitive groups, for whom the risks are excessive, must be identified. Persons subject to particular risks and vulnerabilities must be protected from manual handling.    Account should be taken of such vulnerabilities in health surveillance.

The provision of information and training on handling and lifting is required where the general risk or individual risk assessment so requires.  Employees must be given information on the weight of each load and its centre of gravity.

The HSA have published guidelines on weight lifting capacity for men and women. Temporal limitations on lifting are also set out.

Civil Liability

Manual handling accidents account for almost a third of workplace accidents reported annually to the HSA. They are also the subject of a significant number of civil claims. Liability for back and related injuries commonly arises by reason of the failure to provide a safe system of work in relation to load lifting.

The absence of training has constituted a breach of duty in many cases.  The failure to give proper instructions on lifting technique or on permissible weights may constitute an unsafe system of work. Training may have been given, but it may have gone out of date.  Liability has arisen, when lifting techniques become later discredited, and the older practice is not updated.

Employees must receive adequate training in handling load and must be given the requisite information. Employees must be given information in relation to the weight of loads and their centre of gravity.

Defective Systems

Employers have been held liable in damages in many instances where inadequate action has been taken by them in relation to manual handling.  There have been numerous cases where the courts have awarded injuries based on defective systems of manual handling.

Civil liability may arise by reason of the failure to have and maintain mechanical lifting systems.  A number of instances have involved the failure of forklifts and hoists. Injuries may result directly from failure.  Liability may also arise where employees have continued to undertake manual loading, in circumstances where forklift or other mechanical equipment have failed.

In some cases, the act or method of lifting may result from a failure to follow the systems that are in place.  However, where the failure is predictable, has repeatedly occurred and /or has been condoned, the employer may be liable for failure to take the reasonable precautions and countermeasures. Many civil cases have related to nurses, porters and attendants in hospitals, who have carried patients in inappropriate ways, thereby causing themselves personal injury.

References and Sources

Irish Books

Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 26

Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated       2013   Byrne

Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland        2012   Kinsella Ch 4

Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon

Health & Safety at Work   1998 Stranks Ch.9

Civil Liability for Industrial Accidents 1993 While


The Health and Safety Authority  www.hsa.ie

Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk

UK Books

Tolleys Health and safety at work, 2017 29th ed Bamber,

Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Author FORLIN, G.

Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Author ALES, E., ed.

Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks

Principles of Health and Safety at Work (8th ed) Holt, Allan St. John; Allen, Jim;

The Law of Health and Safety at Work 2014/15 (23rd ed) Moore, Rachel; Winter, Hazel;


Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)