Manual handling - questions and answers

Manual handling relates to the moving of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling.

What is the maximum weight that can be lifted?

Where possible manual lifting should be avoided and mechanical lifting devices such as sack trucks or trollies should be used whenever possible.  

There is no legal maximum weight that a person can safely lift.  Lifting any weight can cause injury and much depends on the object being lifted, the environment, the shape of the object, the physical characteristics of the lifter and well as the distance of the object from the spine.

An employer must have risk assessments on manual handling as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 and have developed a safe system of work for lifting as required by the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978.  An employee should be able to ask for the findings of a risk assessment.  The risk assessment will define the control measures necessary to protect health and safety. 

Should an employer only consider lifting and lowering? 

No, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations also apply to objects being pushed and pulled across a floor.

Is my employer required to provide training for manual handling?

Yes, your employer is required to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of injury to those employees undertaking manual handling operations.

Also, an employer is required to provide information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to protect a person’s health and safety arising from manual handling tasks.


The Manual Handling Regulations establishes a clear hierarchy of control measures, the risk assessments must show that these measures have been considered. The hierarchy of control measures are as follows:

  • avoid hazardous manual handling operations by addressing the following questions:
    • can the movement of loads be eliminated for example can the task be re-designed to avoid moving loads or could delivery be arranged to the point of use?
    • can the operations be automated?
    • can mechanical devices be used for example trucks, barrows, rollers, handling aids, forklift trucks, sack trucks?
  • make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the risk of injury of any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
  • reduce the risk of injury for operations so far as is reasonably practicable; this can be done by improvements to the task and load (for example reduce the load size and/or distance travelled; consider a team load).

Is there a guide to help employers with manual handling assessments?

Yes.  The manual handling assessment charts (the MAC tool) was developed to help the user identify high risk workplace manual handling activities and can be used to assess the risks posed by lifting, carrying and team manual handling activities.

It is designed to help employers understand, interpret and categorise the level of risk of the various known risk factors associated with manual handling activities.  It incorporates a numerical and a colour-coding score system to highlight hiugh risk manual handling tasks.

The MAC tool is available from the following link:

Does a two person lift mean twice as much can be lifted?

No.  Handling by two or more people may make possible an operation that is beyond the capability of one person or reduce the risk of injury to a single handler. 

During a lifting operation the proportion of the load that is borne by each member of the team will inevitably vary to some extent.  Such variation is likely to be more pronounced on sloping or uneven ground.  Therefore, the load that a team can handle safely is less than the sum of the loads that the individual team members could cope with when working alone.

As an approximate guide the capability of a two person team is two-thirds the sum of their individual capabilities and for a three person team the capability is half the sum of their individual capabilities.  Teams of more than four are unlikely to work successfully. 

What is the correct lifting technique?

There is no single correct way to lift.  The technique for lifting will depend on many things such as the weight and size of the object.  For example, it would be easier to pick up something that is boxed and has handholds than something awkwardly shaped or where the weight is unevenly distributed. 

The content of any training in good handling technique should be tailored to the particular situation or individual circumstances under which the manual handling takes place.  HSE has published guidance which contains illustrations of good handling practice (please see resources).      


Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.