Up to 12.3 million working days are lost every year due to back pain related injuries. Many of these injuries are caused by a simple failure to follow correct manual handling techniques.

Manual handling is a day-to-day occurance in garden centres and encompasses everything from lifting and supporting a load through to transporting the load by pushing it, pulling it, carrying it or moving it in any other way that requires physical labour.

Many manual handling injuries are cumulative, caused by carrying out tasks repeatedly over time rather than being caused by a single incident. Common injuries range from pulling a muscle to damaging tissue, trapping a nerve, crushing vertebrae or causing a hernia. Most injuries are to the back, but hands, arms and feet are also vulnerable to fractures and lacerations.


The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require every employer to avoid hazardous manual handling as far as practicable. Where unavoidable, employers must assess and reduce the risk from manual handling operations at work.


The following four specific areas – Task, Individual, Load and Environment (TILE) should be considered in your manual handling assessments:

1. The Task 

Does the activity involve twisting, stooping, bending, excessive travel, pushing, pulling or precise positioning of the load, sudden movement, inadequate rest or recovery periods, team handling or seated work?

2. The Individual 

Who is the best person for the job? Consider those with a history of back problems, those under 18 or pregnant workers.

3. The Load 

Is the load heavy, unwieldy, difficult to grasp, sharp, hot, cold or difficult to grip? Are the contents likely to move or shift?

4. The Environment 

Are there space constraints, uneven, slippery or unstable floors, variations in floor levels, stairs or steps, doors to open, extremely hot, cold or humid conditions, poor lighting, poor ventilation, gusty winds, clothing or Personal Protective Equipment that restricts movement? 

Top Tips to Reduce the Risk of Manual Handling Injury

  1. Avoid – It is common sense, but always avoid manual handling as much as you can. Mechanical lifting aids such as lift trucks, hiabs and pump trucks should be used wherever practicable. Slabs, bricks, blocks, timber and concrete products would typically be mechanically handled.

  2. Use of handling aids – Where small items, like individual potted plants, need moving around the site, use a trolley rather than carrying. Trolleys should be pushed rather than pulled.

  3. Plan the lifting/handling – Are any obstructions in the way? Check walkways are clear of obstructions, such as trailing hoses and misplaced stock. Where manual handling is unavoidable, ensure there is sufficient access around the item to be lifted, allowing it to be kept close to the body and avoid unnecessary overreaching and stretching.

  4. Adopt a good lifting position, with a firm hold and upright posture – Keep the load close to the body and avoid twisting or leaning sideways or jerking the load. Provide staff with training in correct manual handling techniques. Safety Cloud offers manual handling training via e-learning.

  5. Don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed – There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. Consider individual capabilities.

  6. Positioning – If the load needs to go into a precise position, put it down first, then slide into position.

  7. Personal Protective Equipment – Steel toe-capped boots or gloves may be needed but clothing should not restrict or impede movement. Consider wearing appropriate gloves to protect against cuts and abrasions, irritation from plants and splinters from timber products. Warm clothing will be needed when working outdoors in the Winter months.

  8. Storage height – Try to store heavier items at elbow height rather than below knee height or above shoulder height to reduce strain on the spine.

  9. Repetitive Lifting and rest breaks – Prolonged poor technique when lifting even items them can lead to severe and lasting injury. If you are carrying out repetitive lifting tasks like shelf stacking, ensure you take adequate breaks.