Choosing and using trolleys

Trolleys come in various styles and sizes and it is important to select the right trolley for the task. This guidance can help employers choose trolleys to move loads and help them eliminate or reduce risks to employees using trolleys.

Last updated

Tuesday 14 Apr 2020

Industries and topics
  • Aged care
  • Transport, logistics and warehousing
  • Hazardous manual handling

Your legal duties

Employers, self-employed persons, employees, designers, manufacturers and suppliers all have legal obligations to workplace safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).

Find out about your occupational health and safety obligations relating to plant on WorkSafe's Plant and your legal duties page.

Plant and your legal duties

Using trolleys to control risks

Trolley basics

Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of employees at work and must eliminate or reduce risks to their health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. This guidance can help employers select and use trolleys to control risks to employees performing a range of manual tasks. Using a trolley can reduce employees’ risk of injury so long as the trolley suits:

  • the task and the materials being loaded
    • the physical characteristics of the person using the trolley
      • the layout of the work space

        Minimum requirements for trolleys

        As a minimum requirement, trolleys should have:

        • a height-adjustable spring or scissor base to ensure employees can position the load at a suitable height for lifting or sliding heavier items at the bottom
          • handles that project away from the body of the trolley so employees can use the handles without their legs or feet hitting the trolley while walking
            • a height limit for stacking, so the employee pushing can see over the load
              • a clearly visible label showing the load rating in kilograms and number of items
                • castors and wheels suited to the floor surface
                  • low-resistance bearings
                    • regular inspection and maintenance – remove damaged trolleys from service until repaired or replaced

                      Risks from using trolleys

                      Using trolleys such as hand trucks, hand trolleys or hand pallet jacks for handling large, bulky or awkward items is not without risk. While trolleys can reduce the risk of injuries from lifting and carrying large, bulky or awkward items, there are still manual handling risks associated with pushing and pulling trolleys. There is a high risk of injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) when using trolleys on stairs or steep gradients, particularly if the load overbalances during handling. There is also a risk of fingers and hands being crushed or caught between the trolley and the load or other items, and risks of toes, feet and lower legs being hit or crushed.

                      Choosing the right trolley

                      It is important to choose the right trolley for a task because using the wrong equipment can introduce new risks. When choosing a trolley for the workplace, consider a range of factors, including:

                      • the environment where employees will use the trolley
                        • the type of work
                          • employee characteristics
                            • load characteristics, such as size, shape, weight, centre of gravity
                              • frequency of use
                                • distances to travel
                                  • workplace layout, for example, aisle width, type of flooring, gradient and floor condition

                                    A risk assessment will identify the factors to consider. Consult with employees to find out about problems with the way they do the task and provide information about available options.

                                    The following considerations may help employers select and provide employees with an appropriate trolley for the task. If a workplace has multiple trolleys it is important to instruct employees on which type of trolley to use for particular tasks.

                                    Environment factors

                                    Distance

                                    Risk of injury can increase the further an employee pushes a trolley. Consider trolleys with:

                                    • mechanical assistance to reduce physical demands on employees
                                      • durable castors and wheels

                                        Floor gradient

                                        Floor gradient, an incline or slope in the flooring, requires employees to use more force to push a trolley and increases the risk of an MSD. Consider trolleys with:

                                        • mechanical assistance to reduce physical demands on employees
                                          • speed control in handles
                                            • safety brakes
                                              • straps to secure loads

                                                Floor surface

                                                Floor surfaces where employees use trolleys should be level and smooth, without ridges or rough or damaged patches.

                                                Floor surfaces, including wet areas, should be non-slip and should not require employees to use increasing levels of force to push trolleys or other equipment.

                                                Regular housekeeping, for example, appropriate cleaning for floor type and the elimination of spills of grease, residue, oils, crumbs and water, is essential to prevent slips, trips and falls.

                                                Inspections will help identify sources of spills and leaks and help maintain a clean and smooth floor surface so it is easier for employees to move trolleys.

                                                Employees should wear footwear suitable for the floor surface.

                                                Choose trolleys with:

                                                • castor material suited to the floor surface, for example, pneumatic tyres
                                                  • castor diameter suited to the floor surface
                                                    • spring castors
                                                      • safety brakes

                                                        Stairs

                                                        Stairs increase risks when using a trolley. Aim to find alternative solutions and eliminate the need to use trolleys on stairs. If there is no alternative solution, choose trolleys designed for stairs.

                                                        Space availability

                                                        Choose trolleys with height and width suited to the space.

                                                        Storage

                                                        If storage space is an issue, consider trolleys which are foldable, collapsible or portable.

                                                        Task factors

                                                        Transferring items to and from vehicles

                                                        Consider:

                                                        • the weight of the trolley and its load
                                                          • using foldable or collapsible trolleys, if loading into the vehicle
                                                            • using trolleys with castors and wheels designed for outdoor use

                                                              Stacking and moving items

                                                              Make sure:

                                                              • the height of the trolley and its load do not affect the user’s field of vision
                                                                • the height of the trolley platform minimises employees bending when loading and unloading
                                                                  • the trolley has lockable wheels to prevent movement when loading and unloading

                                                                    Moving items from different heights

                                                                    Choose a scissor lift or hydraulic lift trolley.

                                                                    Moving items in the workplace

                                                                    Make sure the height of the trolley platform suits the items being picked up and dropped off.

                                                                    Forces required to push and pull

                                                                    Consider:

                                                                    • floor gradient
                                                                      • castor and wheel design and materials
                                                                        • floor surface
                                                                          • trolleys with mechanisation to reduce the need for employees to use force when pushing and pulling

                                                                            Handling items on trolleys

                                                                            Consider:

                                                                            • the height and adjustability of the trolley platform to minimise bending
                                                                              • trolleys with a spring-loaded base or insert

                                                                                Setting up and dismantling collapsible trolleys

                                                                                Consider:

                                                                                • the trolley’s height, length, width and weight
                                                                                  • catch points
                                                                                    • handles

                                                                                      Organisation and work practices and administrative processes

                                                                                      Consider:

                                                                                      • testing trolleys
                                                                                        • trialling trolleys
                                                                                          • trolley maintenance
                                                                                            • staff training on how to operate the trolley, load and unload it and safe manual handling when loading and unloading items
                                                                                              • trolley storage

                                                                                                Trolley loads

                                                                                                Load dimensions vary

                                                                                                Consider:

                                                                                                • the number, size and configuration of castors and wheels
                                                                                                  • mesh or bars for visibility and weight
                                                                                                    • handles for grip
                                                                                                      • capacity of the trolley
                                                                                                        • trolleys with mechanisation to reduce physical demands on employees

                                                                                                          Heavy loads

                                                                                                          Consider:

                                                                                                          • using trolleys with side or detachable gates
                                                                                                            • using trolleys with a spring-loaded base or insert

                                                                                                              Specific load characteristics

                                                                                                              The type of trolley should take into account the characteristics of loads, including:

                                                                                                              • predictability, for example, people or live animals
                                                                                                                • shape and form, for example, drums and cylinders
                                                                                                                  • hazardous substances
                                                                                                                    • fragility
                                                                                                                      • extreme temperatures, for example, hot food
                                                                                                                        • hygiene and sterility, for example, clinical trolleys

                                                                                                                          Consider:

                                                                                                                          • product material
                                                                                                                            • position and dimensions of platform
                                                                                                                              • availability of straps
                                                                                                                                • durability
                                                                                                                                  • handle height and design
                                                                                                                                    • using platforms on wheels, also known as dollies

                                                                                                                                      Employee characteristics

                                                                                                                                      Different heights of employees

                                                                                                                                      Consider:

                                                                                                                                      • trolleys with vertical handles
                                                                                                                                        • the width and height of the trolley and its effect on the employee’s field of vision

                                                                                                                                          Pushing and pulling forces

                                                                                                                                          Researchers have identified key factors to consider when designing for manual pushing and pulling tasks. The weight of the load or equipment is not the most important factor. Rather, it is the horizontal push force that matters most.

                                                                                                                                          Pushing is preferable to pulling

                                                                                                                                          Pushing is preferable to pulling for several reasons. Pulling trolleys creates the risk of employees running over their own feet. If an employee pulls while facing in the direction of travel, their arm is stretched behind their body, placing the shoulder and back in an awkward posture and increasing the likelihood of an MSD. Pulling trolleys while walking backwards also creates a risk because employees cannot see where they are going.

                                                                                                                                          Research shows that people can usually exert higher push forces than pull forces. Pulling may be the only practical means of movement in some situations but employers should eliminate or reduce the need for pulling wherever possible.

                                                                                                                                          Four phases of force

                                                                                                                                          To better understand the forces in a typical pushing or pulling task imagine a task which requires an employee to move a trolley some distance, turn the trolley around a corner and then stop and position the trolley at the end of the route. The task involves four phases of force – starting or initial force, rolling or sustained force, turning force and stopping or positioning force. The following information explains each phase:

                                                                                                                                          Force measurement

                                                                                                                                          An ergonomically designed trolley loaded to its rated load will have a starting force not exceeding 21kg-f, a rolling force not exceeding 12kg-force (kg-f) and an emergency stopping force not exceeding 36kg-f on a flat level surface.

                                                                                                                                          To measure force, use a set of calibrated scales or a tension/compression measuring device, also known as a force gauge. Measure force by attaching a force gauge to the trolley at waist height and pulling the trolley along a flat, level floor surface that is representative of the floor surface used. This area should be free of cracks or holes, because these can affect the readings, and the wheels or castors should be in the direction of travel.

                                                                                                                                          Take two recordings. The first recording is of the force to start the trolley moving, the starting force, and the second is the force to keep the trolley moving at a slow walking pace, the rolling force. Repeat these measurements at least three times.

                                                                                                                                          Alternatively, use a force gauge to push the trolley as described and record the readings.

                                                                                                                                          Pushing force increase

                                                                                                                                          Employers have an obligation to provide training and instruction to their employees. The obligation includes training and instruction about pushing and pulling forces so that if employees push trolleys up a slope, they know to reduce the load to stay within the recommended rolling force limit. The information below shows how various slopes increase the calculated pushing force for every 100kg of loaded trolley weight:

                                                                                                                                          • Slope gradient: 1 in 50 (1.1°)

                                                                                                                                            Push force increase per 100kg: 2.0kg-f

                                                                                                                                          • Slope gradient: 1 in 30 (1.9°)

                                                                                                                                            Push force increase per 100kg: 3.3kg-f

                                                                                                                                          • Slope gradient: 1 in 20 (2.9°)

                                                                                                                                            Push force increase per 100kg: 5.0kg-f

                                                                                                                                          • Slope gradient: 1 in 15 (3.8°)

                                                                                                                                            Push force increase per 100kg: 6.7kg-f

                                                                                                                                          • Slope gradient: 1 in 10 (5.7°)

                                                                                                                                            Push force increase per 100kg of laden trolley weight: 10.0kg-force (kg-f)

                                                                                                                                          Diagram showing the same trolley on a slope takes 3kg force to move, while on a 1 in 20 slope it takes 10.5kg of force

                                                                                                                                          Figure 1: The diagram shows the increase in pushing force on a gradient. If a trolley with a laden weight of 150kg requires a pushing force of 3kg-f on a level surface, it will require a force of 10.5kg-f (3+ 5(150/100)) to push it up a gradient of 1 in 20.

                                                                                                                                          Using trolleys in the workplace

                                                                                                                                          Training

                                                                                                                                          Employers must provide training to employees so they have the skills to select and safely use trolleys in the workplace. Training must include information and instruction in identifying hazards and controlling risks from trolleys and safety procedures when using trolleys.

                                                                                                                                          Reducing the effort

                                                                                                                                          Employers should consider the following guidance to reduce the effort of employees using trolleys:

                                                                                                                                          To start a load moving

                                                                                                                                          • Use motorised push/pull equipment such as tugs, bed movers or electric pallet jacks.
                                                                                                                                            • Position trolleys with wheels in the direction of travel.
                                                                                                                                              • Encourage employees to use leg muscles and whole body momentum to start the push or pull of a load.
                                                                                                                                                • Use motorised hand trucks and trolleys that are as lightly constructed as possible, have large castors and wheels that roll freely and are appropriate for the task.
                                                                                                                                                  • Use hand trucks or trolleys that have vertical handles, or handles at a height of about 1m.
                                                                                                                                                    • Regularly check and maintain handmaintain hand trucks and trolleys and ensure they are in good condition.
                                                                                                                                                      • For pushing, ensure handles allow the hands to be positioned just above waist height and with elbows bent close to the body.
                                                                                                                                                        • For pulling, ensure handles allow the hands to be positioned just below waist height, allowing employees to adopt a standing position rather than a seated posture.
                                                                                                                                                          • Show where to deliver loads.
                                                                                                                                                            • Plan the flow of work.
                                                                                                                                                              • Encourage employees to slow the load gradually.
                                                                                                                                                                • Fit brakes and speed limiters to control speed, particularly if it is necessary to stop quickly to avoid other traffic.

                                                                                                                                                                  Guidelines for different trolleys

                                                                                                                                                                  Employers should consider the following guidance for different types of trolleys and ensure their employees have the relevant information, instruction training or supervision to use trolleys safely.

                                                                                                                                                                    Height-adjustable trolleys

                                                                                                                                                                    Height-adjustable trolleys can have additional safety, ergonomic and productivity benefits. Plant such as lift tables, scissor lifts, trolley lifters and walkie stackers have height adjustability and allow employees to move loads while keeping the load close to the ground. Keeping items close to the ground while moving them lowers the load’s centre of gravity and maximises stability. Height adjustability also allows employees to raise items to comfortable ergonomic work heights.

                                                                                                                                                                    Using a trolley to raise loads may eliminate the need for employees to lift and place items. Instead of lifting, employees can more easily slide items into position on a conveyor, bench or shelf or into the rear of a vehicle.

                                                                                                                                                                    Trolleys with tilting devices can position loads both vertically and at angles. These trolleys can also include devices to help horizontal movement, such as conveyors or ball transfers.

                                                                                                                                                                    It is also possible to adapt some trolleys with different power options, for example, lifting with electric or air-powered hydraulic pump units, pneumatic lift systems or full mechanical lift systems.

                                                                                                                                                                    Trolley design may also allow for numerous attachments and accessories to transport and position special workloads such as barrels, coils and rolls and other loads.

                                                                                                                                                                    Safe use recommendations

                                                                                                                                                                    The following guidelines suggest the maximum distance, frequency of use and number of employees required for the safe use of a range of trolleys.