Hazardous manual handling: Safety basics

If you lift, lower, push, pull, carry or move something or someone, you may be doing hazardous manual handling. It’s the biggest cause of injuries in Victorian workplaces.


What is hazardous manual handling?

Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. It’s hazardous manual handling if it involves:

  • repeated, sustained or high force
  • sustained awkward posture
  • repetitive movements
  • exposure to sustained vibration
  • handling people or animals
  • loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold

Hazardous manual handling injuries

Hazardous manual handling can cause injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These include:

  • sprains and strains
  • back injuries
  • soft-tissue injuries to wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • hernias
  • chronic pain

Find and fix hazardous manual handling

Identify hazardous manual handling in your workplace, and make it safe. You'll find tools and guides in the Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling.


Involving employees in health and safety issues can result in a safer workplace. That's why consultation is an important part of risk management. In certain situations employers must consult about health and safety issues with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) if they have them.

Find the hazards

Find all the work that involves hazardous manual handling. Not all manual handling is hazardous. Examples of hazardous manual handling include:

  • moving heavy and large sacks of grain
  • using a jackhammer
  • sitting at a cramped desk and typing for long periods at a time
  • using tin snips with grips that are wide apart
  • steering a heavily loaded trolley through a busy warehouse

Assess the risks

Then you need to assess the risk of the hazardous manual handling causing an MSD. You don’t have to do a formal risk assessment if there is already information about the risk and how to control it.

Forces, postures, movements and vibration affect each other to increase the risk of injury. For example, it takes more bending and twisting of the back to pick up a box from the floor than from a bench at mid-thigh height. The longer the work is done, the greater the risk. Environmental factors like heat, cold and lighting levels can also increase the risk.

Work-related stress can affect the development of MSDs. For example, job demands, low job control, and poor support might affect how someone goes about their job.

Control the risks

Work through the following list to control hazardous manual handling risks. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) set out specified risk control measures, to be used in order. This is called the hierarchy of control.

  1. Eliminate the risk completely. Always try to remove the action that can cause the injury. For example, use bulk bags of stock that have to be handled with a forklift.
  2. Change the workplace or the work. Reduce the risk by changing things like the workplace layout, environment, or work systems. You could also change the things used, or use mechanical aids. Some examples are altering the height of a bench, changing the tools used to carry the load or reorganising the work flow.
  3. Give employees information, instruction or training on how to reduce the risk of injuries.

Review risk controls

Review your risk controls to make sure they are working properly. You must review and, if needed revise them if, for example:

  • there are changes to the equipment or the way work is done
  • you become aware of new information about hazardous manual handling
  • an injury is reported or a notifiable incident occurs
  • an HSR requests

Hazardous manual handling legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 sets out duties in relation to health and safety in the workplace. The OHS Regulations also have specific duties about risks of MSD from hazardous manual handling. See the Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling for full detail of duties relating to hazardous manual handling for:

  • employers
  • employees
  • designers, manufacturers and suppliers of plant (machinery and equipment)

More information


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