Business & compliance advice

What is the law on manual handling to protect employees?

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
5th January 2021
Manual Handling

All employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from injury caused by manual handling operations. ‘Manual handling’ can refer to a range of tasks, primarily lifting, transporting or carrying objects. 

Knowing and following the current manual handling regulations is also good business sense. Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) account for more than a third of all workplace injuries, according to government statistics – and many are caused by incorrect manual handling. 

This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that 47% of injuries affect the upper limbs and neck and 38% the back. MSIs are the third commonest cause of absence from work, with only stress and minor illnesses such as the common cold ranking higher.

What do the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 cover?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, which were updated in 2002, apply to the broadest possible definition of manual moving and handling activities, including not only boxes, cases and other inanimate objects but also people and animals.

Regulation 4(1) of MHOR (the usual abbreviation for the manual handling regulations) sets out a hierarchy of simple measures, designed to reduce the risks:

  • Avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
  • Reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable.

What does the Manual Handling Act mean by 'reasonably practicable'?

HSE guidance on the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 defines reasonably practicable as "balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble". It clarifies this by adding that "you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk."

This makes it essential for employers to conduct a risk assessment, as it is the only way to judge what is reasonably practicable - and what is not.

Everything starts with the risk assessment

As with all health and safety issues, a risk assessment is the primary requirement – as prescribed in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Employers’ risk assessment responsibilities expressly include manual handling tasks. Phoenix can help you as an employer to comply with the manual handling regulations in a number of ways, including conducting manual handling risk assessments for you and providing a range of manual handling awareness training courses, suitable for employees at different levels.

What are the manual handling laws employers need to know?

A list of legislation that relates to moving and handling in the workplace is surprisingly short:

  • The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
  • The Manual Handling Operations 2002, which updated the original manual handling regulations, but didn't change the fundamental employer responsibilities. The correct title for this updating legislation is The Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1992.
  • Complying with the current manual handling regulations is a key aspect of employers' general responsibilities for health and safety in the workplace under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training to be provided for all aspects of workplace health and safety, including manual handling.

Employees also have health and safety responsibilities

Employees have general health and safety duties under the manual handling operations regulations to:

  • Follow appropriate systems of work laid down for their safety
  • Make proper use of equipment provided for their safety
  • Co-operate with their employer on health and safety matters
  • Take care to ensure that their activities do not put others at risk


To safeguard staff welfare, we recommend our online manual handling health and safety course. The course takes approximately 30 minutes and is suitable for employees across a range of industries.


For up-to-the-minute advice on risk assessments, staying compliant with the law and protecting employees performing manual handling tasks, feel free to contact the Phoenix team at any time.