Manual handling injuries account for over a third of all workplace injuries – and many occur within schools as a result of routine caretaker and site service activities. Common issues include various repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as pain and injuries to arms, legs and joints. 

As an employer, it’s important to protect your school staff from work-related health problems. You are legally responsible to reduce the risk of injury from manual handling to as low as reasonably practicable. As part of your obligations, you should aim to eliminate hazardous manual handling and assess the risk of any unavoidable operations.  

What are the most common manual handling activities in schools? 

  • Moving or carrying electrical equipment, such as televisions and computers
  • Lifting or carrying sports equipment
  • Moving school furniture, such as tables and chairs
  • Overreaching or bending to access items on shelving, including textbooks, files or teaching resources 

Assessing manual handling risks – the TILE technique 

When evaluating the risk of injury from manual handling, it is useful to think about the TILE factors: Task, Load, Individual and Environment. This acronym helps you examine each essential area of a manual handling activity.

Task

Review the type of manual handling required and how this may affect the activity. For example, pushing, pulling or lifting could lead to repetitive or strenuous movements or uneven weight distribution. 

Where possible, lifting should be supported or replaced by manual handling aides, such as a sack truck for moving bulky, awkward items like gritting salt. When lifting is necessary, train staff to adopt good posture and avoid twisting, pushing and pulling motions.

Individual 

Consider the capabilities of the person carrying out the manual handling activity. If you or another colleague feels that a task is too difficult, always seek assistance. 

Load

Assess the properties of the load and their effect on the job at hand. Key factors include size, weight or problematic shape, such as a lack of areas to hold. Where the item’s size or weight is large enough to require two people, ensure both colleagues lift at the same time. Allocate one individual to control the lift and instruct the other person.

Environment

Determine how the surrounding area could influence the task. For example, uneven surfaces or insufficient lighting across your school grounds could result in a trip or slip. Wet weather conditions could also make it hard to grip the load. Ensure the route taken during the task is clear and free of hazards – including pedestrians and vehicles. Schedule manual handling activities to avoid peak times of staff and student movement, such as class changes, drop-off and pick-up. 

What are your school’s toughest safety challenges? 

Proper manual handling practice is only a small part of school safety. Whatever your compliance concerns, our education sector experts provide clear, cost-effective guidance and support. Chat through your H&S plan with a Southalls consultant on 0345 257 4015 or email safetyadvice@southalls.com.