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Cement Bag Handling

  • Document Type: Guidance Note
    Keycode: web only
    Industry: Construction, Synthetics manufacturing, 
    Category: Manual Handling, 
    Division Author: Construction & Utilities
    Publication Date: 06 June 2005
    Date First Published: 20 June 2001
    Summary: An employee sustained a partial rupture of a disc in the lower back after lifting and carrying a cement bag from a pallet to a car.

Issued: June 2001

A 28 year old shop assistant at a builder's hardware store lifted a bag of cement from a pallet, carried it 5 to 10 metres and placed it into a car boot for a customer. The employee sustained a partial rupture of a disc in the lower back and after 6 months he was still off work.

Risk assessmentRisk assessment conducted under the OH&S (Manual Handling) Regulations 1999 on this task following the incident established that there was a risk due to high force being involved in the task:

  • Lifting, lowering 40kg cement bags.

Most adults are at risk of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury just lifting or lowering such a weight. This risk is significantly increased if bending and twisting occurs together.

  • Carrying 40kg cement bags.

Most adults are at risk of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury when carrying such a weight over any distance.

  • Applying uneven, jerky forces to manoeuvre bags during handling.
  • Applying sudden or unexpected forces i.e. handling wet, dusty or otherwise slippery bags.
  • Using an open-handed grip to handle heavy bags.
  • Applying sudden or unexpected forces to carry objects i.e. carrying over uneven terrain, or around objects and materials in the path of the worker, or when avoiding pedestrians and vehicles in the workplace.

Contributing factors

Workplace layout

  • Location where bags are stored and where customer vehicles are parked determines how far bags are moved and the route required to be taken. Bags stored on pallets at floor level mean that workers and customers need to bend to pick up bags from bottom layers.
  • Layout of aisles. Narrow aisles may restrict the use of forklifts.
  • Racking design. Workers may need to adopt awkward postures when handling bags due to the racking design.

Carrying a load over long distances increases muscle fatigue and can affect the ability to safely carry out other manual handling tasks afterwards. The risk of injury increases with the distance the load is carried. Bending and twisting while handling the bag was required to load it into the boot of the car.

Nature of object

  • Weight of cement bag is 40kg.
  • Design of bag. The compact design of a cement bag gives the impression that one person can lift the bag. The current design of cement bags result in a poor technique being most often employed to lift/carry them. There are no handles on the bags to prompt bag orientation. If the bag is lifted flat the worker cannot get the load close to the body. The risk of injury increases as the distance the load is carried away from the body. If the bag is picked up and carried on end then the hands, arm and shoulders are supporting the weight predominantly. The risk of injury increases if smaller muscle groups handle the load.

Tools and equipment

  • No mechanical aids such as trolleys, wheelbarrows, pallet lifters etc. were available

Work organisation

  • Other persons were not available to assist in handling the bag.

Task design

  • Making up several customer orders within a short period of time may require sales assistant to handle 40kg bags for a considerable period.
  • Lifting of 40kg bags from one pallet to another for restocking purposes only.

Physical environment

  • Inclement weather may mean that the task needs to be done quickly.
  • Dusty environment may make the bags more slippery to handle.


  1. If the customer is buying cement bags to make concrete, consider elimination of bag handling and sand/screenings handling by getting customer to purchase concrete supplied in a concrete truck directly to job.
  2. If a customer requires multiple bags for making cement render, brick mortar, tiling applications etc. provide bags on a pallet and deliver to site using mechanical aids or source larger containers such as 1000L bulky box or other bulk bag.
  3. Manually carrying heavy objects over a distance should be avoided. Use a suitable trolley for transporting the bags. If loading into the boot of a vehicle, consider height adjustable trolleys or other such devices to allow sliding of the product rather than lifting and carrying. Cement bags to be stored as close as possible to the customer parking area.
    See illustrations below for manual handling aids
  4. The risk of a musculoskeletal disorder increases as the weight of the load increases. Minimise the risk of injury by either reducing the weight and size of bags or increasing their size to the extent that they cannot be handled manually. For example, bulk bags of 200kg or more may be more cost effective and would require the use of mechanical aids. Alternatively, only allow smaller 20kg bags of cement in your workplace.
    Permanent controls such as described above should be introduced as soon as practicable
  5. Storage of cement bags. Store cement bags as close as possible to waist height if shelves or racks are used. Maintain clear space around and above stored cement bags so that they can be handled without awkward postures.
  6. If hand palletising cement bags, ensure devices such as pallet lifters and turntables or other such materials handling systems are used to eliminate the need to repetitively bend to handle bags on the pallet.
  7. Interim controls should be put in place where workers are currently required to manually lift 40kg bags. These could include obtaining alternative supplies of smaller bags or reduce lifting by sliding the bags onto and off trolleys. Caution: In most situations two-person lifting of 40kg bags is a poor interim solution due to the poor grip, uneven load when moving and the twisting of the body during handling.
  8. All workers have a risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder when handling these bags. If your workers also include young persons then they are at a higher risk as they may have less experience and expertise in safe handling techniques. In addition, young workers are at a greater risk of injury as their spine and other joints are still developing and are more easily damaged.

The following are required if workers are required to manually handle these bags:

  • General and specific manual handling training and instruction at induction and on an ongoing basis;
  • Direct supervision of manual handling tasks;
  • Assessment of the tasks, including taking into consideration young workers who may have a lack of practical experience and expertise in safer manual handling techniques.

Manual handling aids
Some trolley designs (right) have table heights that are fully adjustable. Table height can be altered to assist loading and unloading at different heights. Adjusting table height allows bags to be slid on and off the table instead of lifting.

The trolleys fitted with scissor lifts demonstrate some of the variations available. They include offset tables where the scissor lift is not directly under the centre of the table and multiple scissor mechanisms to increase the height of the platform.

The common wheelbarrow (far left) is often overlooked as a manual handling aid. The wheelbarrow (left) has the load evenly spread, making it more balanced and easier to operate.

Acts and Regulations

Acts and regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356 or order online at

View the legislation at Victorian Law Today at

Standards Australia

Copies of standards can be obtained by contacting Standards Australia on 1300 654 646 or by visiting the web site at

Further information

The Victorian Code of Practice for Manual Handling WorkSafe Western Australia, SafetyLine Solution: Bricklaying
Contact your local WorkSafe office

If you are an employer, you have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety (Manual Handling) Regulations 1999 to protect your employees (and any contractors and their employees you hire) from the risk of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
You must:

  • identify tasks in your workplace that involve hazardous manual handling
  • assess the risk of MSD associated with the task
  • eliminate the risk of MSD or, if this is not practicable, reduce the risk.

ConsultationYou must consult your employees, including any health and safety representatives and deputy health and safety representatives, when looking at tasks, finding out the risk and considering solutions.

Special Note on Codes of Practice: Codes of Practice made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 provide practical guidance to people who have duties or obligations under Victoria's OHS laws. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 allows the Minister for Workcover to make Compliance Codes which will provide greater certainty about what constitutes compliance with the OHS laws.

Codes of Practice will continue to be a practical guide for those who have OHS duties and WorkSafe will continue to regard those who comply with the topics covered in the Codes of Practice as complying with OHS laws. WorkSafe will progressively review all Codes of Practice and replace them with guidance material and in appropriate cases, with Compliance Codes.

Note: This guidance material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.