Activities involving manual handling are present throughout schools, and as an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect your workers from any hazardous manual handling risks in the workplace. Manual handling includes transporting or supporting a load by hand or by bodily force, this could involve lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, moving or putting down a load. 

Some of the most common manual handling activities seen in schools include moving and handling sports equipment, electrical equipment, furniture and classroom supplies such as textbooks. This is not an exhaustive list of activities, therefore it is important to undertake an assessment to highlight tasks involving manual handling in order to either avoid as far as reasonably practicable or to reduce the risk of injury as low as reasonably practicable.  

How to choose the right level of manual handling assessment 

A suitable and sufficient risk assessment is required for when certain hazardous manual handling activities cannot be avoided. It is important that the assessment identifies where the risk of injury lies and can identify the appropriate ways to reduce risk. Be aware that some tasks are low risk and do not require full assessments. It is possible to distinguish between low-risk tasks and others that require a more in-depth assessment. 

There are no legal specifics on weight limits, only guidelines (HSE); these are not ‘safe limits’ for lifting or carrying but are used as broad generalisations. If these guidelines are met then the risk of injury can be considered as low, and a more in-depth assessment is not needed. 

If there is still uncertainty after using the simple manual handling risk filters it is recommended that you undertake a more detailed full assessment. 

Tip: Always consult your employees when undertaking an assessment, they know their workplace best such as what tasks are difficult, hard work or unpopular. They may also have ideas and possible solutions. 

Assessing hazardous manual handling activities that cannot be avoided

When assessing a manual handling task that cannot be avoided you should consider the TILE factors (task, individual, load and environment). This useful acronym can be used to help the assessor consider each area of the manual handling activity. Manual handling risk assessments can be undertaken online through Safety Cloud, or by using a checklist to systematically evaluate all the possible risk elements. 

Example of points to consider when assessing manual handling:

  • The frequency of the task
  • The type of postures adopted when undertaking the task
  • The weight of the load
  • Cramped or confined work areas
  • Poor condition of floor surfaces
  • Insufficient lighting
  • A person’s capabilities to complete the task (considering underlying medical considers, strength, fitness etc). 
  • How far the load is carried, lifted or lowered

The hierarchy of control should be used when eliminating or minimising exposure to unavoidable manual handling hazards. Wherever possible mechanical or manual handling aids should be used, such as chair trolleys for moving classroom furniture or PE equipment trolleys.