Article Safety

Manual Handling Operations – Have you assessed your risk?

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As the litigious nature of society grows and employees appear to be encouraged more than ever to pursue claims with their employers, the likelihood of claims for manual handling injuries is also likely to increase. Manual handling injuries are part of a wider group of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The term ‘musculoskeletal disorders’ covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. HSE states that statistics from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicate that MSD cases, including those caused by manual handling, account for more than a third of all work-related illnesses reported each year to the enforcing authorities. So, what aspects of geotechnical site work may be exposing the workforce to risks of manual handling injury which could lead to an unexpected claim.

Legislative Background

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 19921 is the main part of legislation which employers should be familiar with but additionally they should also be aware of other related HSE guidance such as the Manual Handling Assessment Charts (the MAC tool), INDG383 (rev 3)2. This sister guidance to the Regulations provides a detailed insight into how an employer should assess the risk through three types of assessment: lifting operations, carrying operations and team handling operations.

Most employers and hopefully their employees will be aware that the law does not identify a maximum weight limit. It places duties on employers to manage or control risk; measures to take to meet this duty will vary depending on the circumstances of the task. Things to be considered will include the individual carrying out the handling operation (e g strength, fitness, underlying medical conditions), the weight to be lifted and distance to be carried, the nature of the load or the postures to be adopted or the availability of equipment to facilitate the lift.

The HSE MAC Tool

The MAC tool provides a colour coded and numerical approach to risk assessment which takes into account all of the above factors but in a pragmatic and user-friendly approach and defines the following levels of risk:

G = GREEN – Low level of risk   Although the risk is low, consider the exposure levels for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women,  disabled, recently injured, young or inexperienced workers.
 A = AMBER – Medium level of risk   Examine tasks closely.
R = RED – High level of risk   Prompt action needed. This may expose a significant proportion of the working population to risk of injury.
P = PURPLE – Unacceptable level of risk   Such operations may represent a serious risk of injury and must be improved.


The first part of the assessment is to assess the load weight and for lifting and carrying for individuals this requires the employer to assess the weight of the load but also the frequency/repetition of the task. Although most single person lifting operations have ‘manageable’ load weights i.e. bags of sand/gravel/bentonite are limited to 25kg and bulk samples are around 25kg, if there is a repetitive nature to the task then the operation may go into the RED or even PURPLE. Therefore, tasks such as manually loading a lorry with bulk bags or unloading a couple of pallets of bentonite/gravel may push the task into the RED which would be deemed a high-risk task requiring prompt action. This is not surprising and why the employer must ensure collections and deliveries are assessed and where required are made with hi-ab lorries or tail lifts and have pallet trucks or a forklift available.

Team Lifting

Team lifting operations in our industry are generally a two-person lift. In this instance the MAC tool requires the employer to simply assess the load weight and does not take into account the frequency. The tool indicates that for two person lifts a weight in excess of 65kg is a high-risk activity and lift weights in excess of 85kg is an unacceptable risk. Employers can obtain equipment weights from the manufacturers and suppliers and a list of standard cable percussion tooling weights is provided in the current BDA Cable Percussion Guidance3.  Therefore, as examples: a sinker bar of 80kg or a 6” casing lead length of 77kg would mean a high-risk lifting operation whilst a U100 slide hammer at 93kg and a standard SPT drop hammer at 115kg would be an unacceptable risk. The choice of core boxes is another area of concern. A 3m two channel core box containing S size core of Chalk (a relatively low density rock) can still weigh in excess of 77kg which takes the lift into a high level of risk whereas higher density rock may become an unacceptable level of risk. As the frequency of the lift is not a factor then for each and every lift where there is a potential for a manual handling injury there is a potential claim.

Other factors

The MAC Tool does not simply use weight and frequency alone to assess the risk and also requires the employer to assess:

B – Hand distance from the lower back

C – Vertical lift zone

D – Torso twisting and sideways bending

E – Postural constraints

F – Grip on the load

G – Floor surface

H – Carry distance

I – Obstacles on route

J – Communication, co-ordination and control

K – Environmental factors

Therefore as an example, the assessment for using wooden core boxes has to start factoring in: having to bend down to pick the load up (B), leaning to one side as the box is picked up and carried (C & D), the use of looped rope handles which cut into the fingers (F), potential lifting on slippery or uneven ground (G) and potential obstacles (I),  then the overall risk of the task becomes high risk as a minimum and therefore prompt action is required.

Risk Control Measures

The first step required to comply with the Regulations is that the employer should, so far as is reasonably practicable, avoid the need for their employees to carry out manual handling operations that involve a risk of injury. If this is not reasonably practicable then the risks to employees of the manual handling operations carried out in the normal course of their work should be assessed and reduced.

On geotechnical sites that means using hi-ab lorries, winches or other mechanical lifting devices where possible, reducing the length of casings and other equipment, working on hard standing or creating more solid work areas with bog matting, using mounted hydraulic SPT hammers and using support vehicles and trailers to move equipment and materials around the site.

So what about the wooden core boxes? The employer may be able to improve the ground surface conditions and use mechanical lifting devices when in the core store or once on pallets but the weights are still going to mean a high to unacceptable level of risk in the field and in many core stores. Improvements to the handles will also help but the overriding problem will still be the weight and therefore the only solution left open to the employer is to reduce the size of the core box.

Any claim for a Manual Handling injury will result in the court looking at the current Regulations and Guidance and the measures the Employer has taken to reduce the level of risk of the task so far as reasonably practicable. Have you?


1 HSE, Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 1992

2 HSE, Manual handling assessment charts (the MAC Tool), INDG 383 rev3, 2019

3 BDA, Guidance for the operation of cable percussion rigs and equipment.

Article contributed by Julian Lovell, Managing Director of Equipe Group