Hazardous manual handling training fact sheet

This guidance aims to help employers understand how to use training to control hazardous manual handling risks to employees. It includes a training checklist.

Hazardous manual handling

For many businesses, tasks involving manual handling are an important part of getting the job done. Some work involving manual handling can be hazardous.

Hazardous manual handling means work requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain:

  • a thing if the work involves one or more of the following –
    • repetitive or sustained application of force
    • sustained awkward posture
    • repetitive movement
    • application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force that it would be reasonable to expect that a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking
    • exposure to sustained vibration
  • live persons or animals
  • unstable or unbalanced loads or loads that are difficult to grasp or hold

Hazardous manual handling is often the cause of workplace injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include but are not limited to:

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

Risk control measures

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) set out specified risk control measures that employers must undertake to control risks associated with hazardous manual handling. The control measures are arranged in the order that they must be applied. This order is called the hierarchy of control.

Employers must consider and apply the highest level of control, so far as is reasonably practicable, before considering the level below it. Employers must work their way down the hierarchy of control until the risk of MSD is eliminated or reduced so far as reasonably practicable.

The following list shows the order of controls for hazardous manual handling risks:

  1. Eliminate the risk. Always try to remove the action that can cause the injury.
  2. Change the workplace or the work. Reduce the risk by changing things like the workplace layout, environment or work systems.
  3. Give employees information, instruction or training on how to reduce the risk of injuries

Often it will be necessary to use a combination of risk control measures to effectively control the risk of MSD.

Training supports other control measures

Training plays a role in protecting employees from MSDs but it is not the first option that employers must exercise to control risks associated with hazardous manual handling. It must only be used as a support for other control measures that rank higher in the hierarchy of control and cannot be implemented alone.

Employers often provide new employees with generic 'how-to-lift' training involving advice such as 'bend your knees and keep your back straight'. This may be the only risk control measure taken by employers and employees are then expected to follow these techniques to help protect themselves from harm.

Providing 'how-to-lift' training is not effective in reducing injury risks. Employees are still at risk when employers take this approach. This type of training does not control the actual source of risk. Employers are required to implement other risk control measures to meet their duties under the occupational health and safety legislation.  

Information on what to include in hazardous manual handling training appears in this guidance under the heading, What to cover in hazardous manual handling training.

Legislative requirements for controlling hazardous manual handling risks

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and OHS Regulations place a range of duties on employers, including duties to, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including providing information and training to employees
  • eliminate risks to health and safety. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, employers must reduce risks to health and safety so far as reasonably practicable
  • monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer’s management and control
  • consult with any health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees when:
    • identifying or assessing hazards or risks to health or safety at the workplace
    • making decisions to control such risks, including, for example, risk controls for hazardous manual handling
    • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of employees at the workplace

Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations explains how employers must control risks of MSD from hazardous manual handling. Employers must, so far as reasonably practicable:

  • identify any hazardous manual handling undertaken by an employee
  • eliminate any risk of MSD associated with hazardous manual handling
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, employers must reduce the risk by:
    • altering the workplace layout
    • altering the workplace environment, including heat, cold and vibration
    • altering the systems of work which involve hazardous manual handling
    • changing the things used in the hazardous manual handling
    • using mechanical aids
    • a combination of the above risk control measures

If the risk of MSD still remains after applying these risk controls, employers must use information, instruction or training to reduce the risk, so far as reasonably practicable. Employers cannot rely solely or primarily on information, instruction or training to control the risk of MSD unless none of the other risk control measures is reasonably practicable.

Employers must review and, if necessary, revise control measures:

  • before altering any thing, process or system of work involving hazardous manual handling, including a change in the place where that work is done
  • if new or additional information about hazardous manual handling becomes available
  • if an MSD at the workplace is reported
  • after an incident to which Part 5 of the OHS Act applies that involves hazardous manual handling
  • if, for any other reason, risk control measures to not adequately control the risks

More information on controlling risks from hazardous manual handling is available in the OHS Regulations and WorkSafe's Hazardous Manual Handling Compliance Code.

What to cover in hazardous manual handling training

Employers must provide employees with any necessary training to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risk to health. Information, instruction and training should include the risk management process of:

  • identifying hazards associated with hazardous manual handling
  • assessing, where necessary, any risk of MSD associated with hazardous manual handling
  • controlling the risk of MSD associated with hazardous manual handling
  • monitoring, reviewing and, where necessary, revising risk controls

WorkSafe's Hazardous Manual Handling Compliance Code says training needs to cover:

  • the risk management process
  • specific MSD risks and the risk control measures in place to control them
  • how to perform work safely, including the use of mechanical aids, tools, plant or equipment and safe work procedures
  • how and to whom to report a problem or maintenance issue. For example, reporting a defective mechanical aid

Training should also include hazardous manual handling tasks that overlap other regulations, for example, working in confined spaces.

Training should use language and examples that are understood by all employees who receive the training

Who requires training

Training should be provided to:

  • employees required to carry out, supervise or manage work
  • new employees as part of their induction
  • in-house designers, engineers and officers responsible for the selection, procurement and maintenance of plant and equipment or the design and organisation of the work
  • workplace health and safety committees
  • HSRs

Review training regularly

Training programs need to be reviewed on a regular basis and when:

  • there is change to work processes, plant or equipment
  • there is an incident
  • new control measures are implemented
  • there is a request by an HSR
  • changes are made to relevant legislation
  • any other issues impact on the way the work is performed

Employers also need to provide refresher training as appropriate for the workplace.

Keep records

Employers should keep records of inductions and training given to employees. The records can include information such as the date and time of the session, the topics covered and the name and signature of the trainer and each of the employees who attended the session. Records can show that training controls have been implemented correctly.

Hazardous manual handling training checklist

This checklist can help employers ensure they have provided adequate training to control hazardous manual handling risks to employees.

Risk management procedure

Employees are trained in the company's hazardous manual handling risk management procedure. This training includes:

Further information on hazardous manual handling risk management is available in WorkSafe's Hazardous Manual Handling Compliance Code.

Specific risks and measures to control those risks

Employees are trained in specific hazardous manual handling risks and the measures in place to control those risks. This training includes:

  • providing information on work involving manual handling that has been determined to be hazardous
  • providing information and training on the specific risk control measures in place for work involving hazardous manual handling
  • providing training on how to perform work involving hazardous manual handling safely, including the use of mechanical aids, tools, equipment and safe work procedures. 'How- to-lift'-type training should not be implemented as standalone training

Reporting issues

Employees are trained on how to report hazards and maintenance issues. This training includes:

  • providing training on the company's internal hazard reporting procedure and how to report any hazardous manual handling-related concerns

This guidance material is SafeWork NSW copyright material which may not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes without express written permission from SafeWork NSW. SafeWork NSW is not liable and does not take any responsibility whatsoever for, or for reliance on, information contained in this guidance material.

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