Health and Safety News

Occupational health and safety news and guidance

Manual handling at work; when you probably shouldn't lift

Photo shows a close view of someone carrying a boxAt one time, what you could and couldn’t lift whilst operating in a workplace environment was down to what you could physically manage.

People love the phrase ‘can-do attitude’, but thankfully that doesn’t apply anymore when it comes to manual handling.

Whilst there are no legal limits for the maximum weight that you can lift nowadays, there are rules and best practice that you simply must follow for compliance with the law (the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992) and of course the safety of your employees!

So, with that in mind, what should you not really lift in the workplace? What sort of materials or objects are a potential no-go? Which tasks should you ideally avoid without the use of machinery or equipment? Let’s take a look:


Can you keep your back straight and your head up when lifting? You have to be able to - if not, then abandon the task immediately. Not being able to keep your back straight is a common sign that you’re attempting to lift something that is simply too heavy for you.

If you can’t keep your head up at all times (maybe you’re moving something fragile, such as a Grandfather clock, or a dangerous object, such as a crate of military equipment) then, again, don’t risk it - find another means.

Twisting and bending

If you have to twist or bend in an unnatural manner when manually handling an object, then you should cease the activity.

Think about your route: any tight corners? Need to navigate a staircase? If so - and if the object is particularly large/heavy and requires you to work as a team - then you can probably bet that your body will need to twist and bend in order to carry the object. If that’s the case, don’t do it.


Are you unable to carry something at a walking pace or slower? This is a common sign that what you’re carrying is too heavy - you’re rushing so that you can get the task done and allow your body to relax. Rushing is dangerous - you have to be able to complete the task safely in a careful and cautious manner.

This might also apply to very hot materials - such as a recently profiled piece of steel that requires moving to a place where it can cool down. Even with protective gloves, the temperatures that such a material can reach can sting your hands and cause you to undertake the task quicker than is advised.


If you have to engage in manual handling on a surface with potential hazards - such as uneven terrain or a slope - then you must undertake a risk assessment and determine whether you are able to follow all the other best practices in this article. If not, you will have to find another way to carry out the task.

Task length

Again, there are no strict guidelines, but expecting people to lift a heavy object for a prolonged period of time is unrealistic and, quite frankly, irresponsible. The same can be said for asking people to lift heavy objects regularly, all day, without sufficient breaks in between.


Ideally you need to be carrying at waist height or shoulder height. If you’re having to lift objects over obstacles higher than shoulder height - or at any other unacceptable height - then you need to find an alternative solution.


Are you able to get a good enough grip on the object or material that you’re shifting? This is particularly difficult on materials with a smooth texture or an object such as a large fridge freezer which has few grip holds.

If you can’t, you may cause yourself injuries. You also risk dropping the object, harming your co-workers, causing damage to your surroundings, or damaging the object itself. Even if just one of your team members can’t get a good grip, then you need to review the situation and determine whether it’s possible with the maximum number of people who are able to grasp a sufficient grip.

Communication and vision

Does the nature of the object or task prevent clear communication? Is the object that you’re moving blocking your vision?

If whatever you’re moving is so large that it’s restricting the view of your fellow co-workers or general surroundings then this can prove detrimental to the safe completion of the task.

If you and your workmates can’t hear each other because you’re too far apart (i.e. the object you’re moving is very large) or you’re working in a noisy environment, then you need to establish other suitable forms of communication. You may even need to consider other methods of carrying out the task safely without the application of any manual handling.

Even if you quickly scribble down the header of each section above, you’ll be doing yourself a favour when it comes to health and safety. Do that, and it should be easy to make sure that no manual handling task is undertaken without considering all of the above - we already know what is right and wrong, but sometimes those important best practices can be forgotten.

Use this post as a reminder of what’s important in manual handling - the safety of your employees.

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