EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Manual handling of loads

Council Directive 90/269/EEC on the minimum health and safety requirements for the manual handling of loads defines the activity as follows:

… ‘manual handling of loads’ means any transporting or supporting of a load, by one or more workers, including lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving of a load, which, by reason of its characteristics or of unfavourable ergonomic conditions, involves a risk particularly of back injury to workers.

The directive requires employers to take appropriate organisational measures, or use appropriate means, such as mechanical equipment, to avoid the need for the manual handling of loads by workers. The directive states that if the need for the manual handling of loads by workers cannot be avoided, the employer should reduce the risks involved. This includes organising workstations in such a way as to make the activity as safe as possible and assessing (preferably in advance) the health and safety conditions of the type of work involved – in particular examining the characteristics of loads.

Employers should also inform workers and/or their representatives of all measures that they are taking in this area and provide information on the exact weight of a load and on the centre of gravity of the heaviest side when a package has been eccentrically loaded. Employers must ensure that workers receive proper training and information on how to handle loads correctly and the risks they might be open to, particularly if these tasks are not performed correctly.

For example, there is a potential risk of back injury if the load:

  • is too heavy or too large;
  • is unwieldy or difficult to grasp;
  • is unstable or has contents likely to shift;
  • is positioned in such a way as to require manipulation at a distance from the body, or requiring the body to twist or move;
  • presents an inherent risk of injury, particularly if there is a collision.

Furthermore, the use of physical effort may risk injury if it is too strenuous, likely to result in a sudden movement of the load or made with the body in an unstable posture. In addition, the activity itself may present a risk if it involves excessive effort, insufficient recovery period or excessive lifting, lowering or carrying distances. Workers may also be at risk if they are physically unsuited to carry out the task, are wearing unsuitable clothing or have inadequate knowledge of or training in manual handling.

See also: enforcement of EU law; Framework Directive on health and safety; health and safety; health and safety personnel; occupational accidents and diseases; protective equipment; risk assessment; working environment.

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