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.
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.
Using trolleys to control risks
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
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
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.
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, 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
straps to secure loads
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
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.
Choose trolleys with height and width suited to the space.
If storage space is an issue, consider trolleys which are foldable, collapsible or portable.
Transferring items to and from vehicles
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
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
castor and wheel design and materials
trolleys with mechanisation to reduce the need for employees to use force when pushing and pulling
Handling items on trolleys
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
the trolley's height, length, width and weight
Organisation and work practices and administrative processes
staff training on how to operate the trolley, load and unload it and safe manual handling when loading and unloading items
Load dimensions vary
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
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
extreme temperatures, for example, hot food
hygiene and sterility, for example, clinical trolleys
position and dimensions of platform
availability of straps
handle height and design
using platforms on wheels, also known as dollies
Different heights of employees
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:
To start the motion, the employee must overcome a range of forces, including:
the forces required to stop and start movement, known as inertial forces
mechanical or physical forces due to factors such as flat spots on a wheel, debris or floor irregularities
If a castor and wheel is not facing in the direction of travel, the employee must overcome additional resistance until the castor aligns. Under typical conditions, the starting or initial force is always higher than the force to sustain movement.
Once movement has started, there is usually no need to apply much, if any, acceleration. The inertial forces either go to zero or become low once moving at a constant velocity. However, any change in speed or direction means acceleration and inertial forces will occur if the employee tries to speed up, slow down or turn. Once in motion at a constant speed and direction, friction and wheel or floor irregularities are the only forces resisting movement. Momentum keeps the equipment in motion.
Two primary forces combine when turning a trolley: One force is inertia, due to acceleration in a new direction. The other force is friction, which occurs in the swivel housing and between the floor and the wheel. The trolley’s momentum, which relates to its mass or weight, wants to carry the trolley in the direction it was travelling. Turning a trolley requires overcoming the trolley’s momentum by applying higher forces in the new direction.
A well-designed and maintained castor will have low frictional resistance to turning at the bearings in the castor housing. Therefore the actual friction concern relates to the wheel pivoting on the floor. Swivel castors and wheels have an offset for this very purpose.
Turning forces can be significant depending on the weight of the trolley, the speed at which it is turned and the friction at the castors and wheels. The result is that an employee will need to apply new forces in new directions, often with awkward body postures and with the exertion of high force, which can increase the likelihood of an MSD.
There is no need to apply force at the end of the travel route if the employee can simply release the trolley and let it roll to a stop on its own. However, if the employee must stop or position the trolley in a specific place, the stopping forces can be significant and in many directions. Such forces can expose the employee to potentially hazardous postures and muscle exertions.
Stopping, in terms of inertial forces, is the same as starting, but additional force is applied to decelerate, rather than accelerate. Positioning is a series of starting, stopping and turning forces. These are typically the highest force conditions required in a pushing task and increase if the space to position the trolley is restricted.
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)
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
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.
To keep the load moving
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 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.
To stop a load
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.
Load weight should be within the rated load of the trolley.
Use a trolley designed in line with ergonomic guidelines.
For 3-wheel trolleys, the load should be stable and have a centre of gravity not higher than handle height.
Place the load so it will not slip, shift or fall, and secure it with straps if provided.
Always wear safety footwear when using this equipment.
Load height should allow the operator clear visibility in the direction of travel. Get a second employee to help and to act as a guide and lookout if the load obstructs visibility.
Limit load lengths to lengths which allow employees to easily manoeuvre and stop the trolley and its load. Consider using two employees to handle trolley loads longer than 4m to minimise the risk of injury from the high force required to stop the load suddenly and to maintain stability should the trolley come into contact with anything.
Total travel distance with a load should not exceed 400m.
Path should be free of obstacles and have good clearance for the trolley.
Employees should not walk backward with a hand trolley unless going up ramps.
When going down an incline, employees should keep the trolley in front of them to ensure control at all times.
Use a trolley fitted with brakes if required to stop on a ramp or if employees regularly use trolleys on ramps.
Move hand trolleys at a walking pace.
Employees should not use hand trolleys more than 200 times per day.
Keep starting forces below the range 17–21kg-f.
Ensure the rolling force does not exceed 12kg-f if employees push the trolley more than 3m.
Ensure employees do not need to use emergency stopping forces of more than 36kg-f to bring the trolley to a stop within 1m.
Load weight should be within the rated load of the hand pallet jack.
Load height should allow the operator clear visibility in the direction of travel. Get a second employee to help if the load obstructs visibility.
Secure the load on a pallet or place it in a stillage so it will not slip, shift or fall.
Limit travel distance to 35m.
Path should be free of obstacles and be at least 1.3m wide.
If using a T-handle, the handle should be long enough to prevent the pallet striking the operator's feet while pulling.
If employees push hand pallet jacks up a slope, reduce the load to stay within the recommended rolling force limit.
Employees should not walk backward with a hand pallet jack unless going up ramps.
When going down an incline, employees should keep the pallet jack in front of them to ensure control at all times.
Use a hand pallet jack fitted with brakes, particularly if stopping on a ramp is necessary or if employees regularly use hand pallet jacks on a ramp.
Move hand pallet jacks at a walking pace.
Start and stop hand pallet jacks gradually to prevent loads from slipping.
Employees should not use hand pallet jacks more than 200 times per day.
Keep the starting forces to the range 17-21kg-f or less.
Ensure the rolling force does not exceed 12kg-f if employees push the jack more than 3m.
Ensure employees do not need to use emergency stopping forces of more than 36kg-f to bring the hand pallet jack to a stop within 1m.
Due to the wheel design, do not use hand pallet jack on gravel, damaged or uneven surfaces.
Always wear safety footwear when using this equipment.
Never ride on hand pallet jacks.
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.