Lifting and carrying - what's the problem?

Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy loads can put workers at risk of serious injury.

How are workers harmed?

Workers are at risk from lifting and carrying injuries particularly when:

  • a load is too heavy, it’s difficult to grasp, or it’s too large
  • the physical effort is too strenuous
  • they are required to bend and twist when handling heavy loads 

When a person reaches for items above shoulder height, their back becomes arched and their arms act as long levers. This makes the load difficult to control and significantly increases the risk of injury.

Injuries and conditions can include:

  • muscle sprains and strains
  • injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back
  • injuries to soft tissues such as nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • abdominal hernias
  • chronic pain 

Some of these conditions are known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD). 

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Provide appropriate mechanical aids and equipment and ensure they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.
  • Ensure building layout/design limits the need to push, pull or carry equipment or loads (eg good path design, floor surfaces allow pallets to be moved directly to storage areas).
  • Position shelving and racking in storage areas at accessible heights.
  • Ensure service counters and food preparation surfaces are between hip and waist height.
  • Order stock in smaller containers that are easier to store and lift.
  • Ensure workers are not exposed to repetitive work for long periods or work that requires a significant amount of high force.
  • In healthcare, eliminate manual lifting of patients, except in life-threatening situations. Provide appropriate mechanical aids and equipment (eg overhead tracking, hoists, mobile hoists, wheeled equipment, slide sheets), and ensure they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications. 
  • Train workers on safe handling methods (eg work is done between shoulder and mid-thigh height and with the elbows close to the body) and how to safely use any mechanical aids and equipment.  

You need to select the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Get your workers involved

  • Ensure your workers know how to make suggestions, ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Always ask your workers for input on identifying health and safety risks and how to eliminate or minimise them. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good decisions when they have been involved in the conversation. Your workers (including contractors and temps) are the eyes and ears of your business. They can help spot issues, and suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train your workers on what the key risks are and how to keep healthy and safe. 

Find out more about getting your workers involved

Where to go for more information

Manual handling in the workplace | ACC(external link)

Habit at Work - injury prevention tool | ACC(external link) 

Manual handling | WorkSafe Victoria(external link)

Manual handling assessment tools | Health and Safety Executive, UK(external link)