Article Safety

AGS manual handling

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More than a quarter of accidents that have occurred at work and have been reported to the enforcing authorities each year, are associated with manual handling.  During the period from 1990 to 1995, an average of 1,181 people annually suffered major injury, and 51,103 suffered injury resulting in more than three days off work.  This makes manual handling the largest single cause of injury at work.  It is not just the lifting of heavy loads that causes injury – often relatively lightweight objects picked up and carried awkwardly can result in major injury.

Virtually all aspects of our industry involve the manual handling of tools, samples, equipment, etc., of varying weights and dimensions.  Handling can be significantly compromised by difficult site conditions, such as slippery, wet, sticky, or muddy ground surfaces and perhaps variations in ground levels.


Most drilling equipment associated with CP boreholes, for example: heavy drilling/sampling tools, sinker bars, standard penetration- test trip hammers/rods, casing, and certain drilling consumables, pose a significant manual handling risk to site operatives.

Manual handling of, for example, the standard penetration test (SPT) trip hammer, at 110kg, remains a significant risk – and it is neither feasible nor practical to dismantle the hammer into manageable components.

In these and other circumstances it is a requirement of legislation to eliminate or reduce the risk to an acceptable level by introducing control measures to achieve safe working practices.

For carrying out a manual-handling risk assessment at any site, apply the acronym: ‘TILE’, which is derived from Task, Individual, Load and Environment, and described as follows:


Consider distance of the load from the body, the movement of the body to pick up the item (including twisting, stooping and reaching), and frequency of the lifting task.  Appropriate control measures may include the changing of working layout and the avoidance of lifting from ground level.  This might include, for example, the placement of SPT rods on bandstands; the storage of materials at waste height, and the use of a drilling winch where appropriate.


Safe manual handling is dependent on the strength and physical fitness of the person carrying out the task, and whether the person has had appropriate manual handling training. Only the most physically competent and appropriately trained personnel, and appropriate number of personnel, should carry out the lifting of such heavy objects.


Weight of load, centre of gravity of load, and size and shape of the load, should all be considered prior to load handling.  If the handling risk is unacceptable, it may be possible to break the load into smaller, manageable components (for example, using shorter casing and sinker bar lengths).  Smaller sample bags should be considered.


The working environment may significantly compromise manual handling tasks especially when they are performed outside on difficult terrain and in challenging weather conditions.  Effective controls in such conditions include creating a safe and well-managed working area that has no trip hazards.  The individual/s performing the task should be wearing appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

All manual handling tasks associated with site-investigation activities should be assessed using the TILE acronym above.

Other site tasks that involve the use (and lifting) of heavy equipment include: plate loading and California-bearing ratio (CBR) tests.  The same precautions and rules for lifting apply, i.e. breaking down the load into manageable components to achieve safe handling practices.  Where a reduction of load is not practical, a risk assessment should be carried out to assess the manual handling task and the necessary control measures required.

Manual handling of lesser loads, e.g. samples, can pose a significant risk if not managed correctly.  To avoid lifting excessive sample loads, the weight of bulk samples can be limited by the use of 15kg-bags, for example. Instructions can be given not to over fill bags.   Environmental sampling commonly requires double or even treble sampling, some of the samples of which are stored in glass containers. Glass adds significantly to the total weight of samples recovered.  Therefore, cool boxes used for storage and transportation of the glass containers should not be overfilled; the contents should be limited to a manageable load per box.

In summary, manual handling poses a significant risk to site operatives when carrying out site investigations, although the risks can be significantly reduced by the breaking down of equipment and the adoption of good management and safe working practices, including the training of personnel.  Where a load or task cannot be practicably reduced or broken down, a risk assessment must be carried out to ensure that there are no unacceptable risks to the individuals performing a lifting task.



The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, as amended in 2002(1),


John R Pulsford – Associate Director
RSK Geoconsult Ltd