Manual handling risks are present throughout schools in day to day activities that encompass everything from lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving. 

In the UK up to 8.9 million working days were lost in 2019/2020 as a result of musculoskeletal disorders with the main cause being manual handling. Common MSD’s such as back pain can be avoided when the correct manual handling techniques are followed. Every member of staff should receive training before engaging in any lifting or handling activities. Manual handling training can either be conducted through face to face training or via e-learning (Safety Cloud) and should be refreshed every 2 years. 

It is important to remember that hazardous manual handling should be avoided as far as reasonably practicable. However, where manual handling is unavoidable in your school then you must assess the risk of injury. Being aware of common manual handling tasks can help you identify any specific associated activities and the work routines of your employees.

What are the most common manual handling tasks in schools?

1. Electrical equipment – Items such as computers, laptops and televisions are valuable educational tools used in many schools, but have you thought about how these bulky and awkward loads are being moved between classrooms or buildings? 

Tip: The use of mechanical handling aids such as sided platform trolleys can be a useful way to safely move heavy items across school grounds. 

2. Sports equipment – Much of the equipment found in school PE departments requires some form of manual handling, such as lifting a bag of footballs, moving gym mats or lifting coloured training cones off shelving. Have you considered the type and condition of your equipment storage? Are staff capable to undertake any manual handling that is needed with PE equipment? 

Tip: Equipment storage trolleys that have been specifically designed for school PE equipment are a safer alternative to lifting and carrying equipment out onto a playground or into a sports hall.

3. School Furniture – Tables and chairs form part of the furniture in the majority of rooms in schools. Have you had to relocate or move tables and chairs to maintain social distancing in classrooms/staff rooms as part of your COVID-19 control measures? Are your staff aware of the correct techniques for moving and lifting items such as furniture? 

Tip: When assessing a manual handling activity it needs to be considered from start to finish. A couple of points to consider, has the task been clearly defined and demonstrated to the applicable staff members undertaking the task? Is the load heavy or unwieldy (chairs, desks, tables) and can a mechanical handling aid be used, such as chair trolley? 

4. Classroom supplies – Gathering stationery supplies, textbooks and workbooks for classrooms could involve overreaching and low level stooping from shelving.

Tip: Lifting from floor level or above shoulder height should be avoided, and storage areas should be adjusted to minimise the need to carry out movements that could increase the risk of injury.