Manual handling in the red meat processing industry

Guidance for employers and employees on how to eliminate or reduce the manual handling health and safety risks in the red meat processing industry. Employees can be injured when lifting, pushing, pulling and processing products.



The red meat processing industry includes abattoirs for beef, mutton and pork as well as smallgoods manufacturers and rendering plants.

Manual handling injuries account for almost 45% of injuries in the red meat processing industry in Victoria.

Employers and employees should read this guidance and take action to control risk wherever reasonably practicable.

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.

Note: This guidance should be read together with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 and the WorkSafe Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), employers have a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable to:

  • Provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and contractors.
    • Where a risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Provide the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable employees to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Consult with employees, contractors and health and safety representatives, where present, when identifying hazards and risks.
  • Consult with employees, contractors and health and safety representatives, where present, when implementing controls to eliminate hazards and risks or, where not reasonably practicable to do so, minimise them.
  • Review and revise any measure implemented to control risk.

Manual handling

Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something.

It is hazardous manual handling if it involves:

  • repeated or sustained application of force
  • sustained awkward posture
  • repetitive movement
  • application of high force that it would be reasonable to expect a person may have difficulty undertaking
  • exposure to sustained vibration
  • handling people or animals
  • handling loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold

In the red meat processing industry, manual handling may include but is not limited to:

  • slaughtering
  • boning
  • smallgoods manufacturing
  • rendering
  • retail butchering
  • wrapping and packing

Musculoskeletal disorders

Hazardous manual handling can cause injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These include but are not limited to:

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

Hazard identification

This guidance lists some of the work identified in the red meat processing industry that involves hazardous manual handling and has caused MSDs.

Risk assessment

To help reduce MSDs, employers should review risks and develop and implement a plan for controls in consultation with employees.

This guidance shows which risks may be in your workplace and, in particular, shows high-risk activities which may put people at risk of developing MSDs.

This guidance cannot replace the requirement for risk assessment and risk control. The risk of developing MSDs will differ depending on the circumstances in each workplace.

Environmental conditions and psychosocial factors may also increase the risk of MSDs associated with hazardous manual handling.

Environmental conditions may include, but are not limited to:

  • vibration
  • heat
  • humidity
  • cold and wind
  • slippery and uneven floor surfaces
  • obstructions
  • poor lighting

Psychosocial factors may include, but are not limited to:

  • work demands, including workload and the pace of the work
  • low levels of control over work
  • poor levels of support by management, supervisors and colleagues

Risk control

Under the OHS Regulations, it is the duty of an employer to put in place risk controls to:

  • eliminate the risk of MSDs, for example, redesign so as to eliminate handling, or
  • if it is not practicable to eliminate the risk of MSDs, reduce the risk of MSDs so far as is reasonably practicable

In either case, the risk may be controlled by:

  • altering the workplace or environmental conditions, for example, using conveyors
  • altering the systems of work, for example, adjusting work rates, regular maintenance on equipment and job rotation
  • changing the objects, for example, breaking down a carcass to reduce weight
  • using mechanical aids, for example, pallet lifters, height adjustable trolleys or forklift attachments

A combination of controls often gives the best solution.

You must consult health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees and trial proposed solutions to determine if they are right for your workplace or if further changes or different controls are needed. Once the controls are in place, they should be monitored to assess their suitability and success.

Providing information, instruction and training in manual handling techniques alone is not a sufficient control measure. Other reasonably practicable controls measures should also be implemented.

When providing information, instruction, training and supervision, ensure it is specific to the tasks being done at the workplace and competency-based.


All employers must consult with employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, on matters that may directly affect employees’ health, safety or welfare. This includes consultation with an independent contractor and any employees of the independent contractor, as well as labour hire workers.

Where there are elected HSRs, the employer must consult with them to identify hazards and assess risks and risk control, as well as consulting on any proposed changes in the workplace, plant, substances or work processes that could affect the health or safety of the employees.

The duty to consult recognises that employee input and participation improves decision-making about health and safety matters. Consultation between employers and employees is vital in effectively managing health and safety at work and as a valuable means of improving health and safety outcomes.

By consulting, employers can become more aware of hazards and OHS issues of concern to employees who can also provide suggestions about how to solve OHS problems. Participation enables employees to play a role in determining how work can be done safely.

More information on the duty to consult

Controlling high-risk activities

  1. Identify high-risk activities in your workplace.
  2. Control the risks using a low-risk solution.
  3. If it is not reasonably practicable to use a low-risk solution then control the risks using a reduced-risk solution.

Solutions to control risks should continue to be reviewed as higher order controls become more practicable.

High-risk activities

High-risk activities involve postures, movements and forces that should not be used in the workplace. An employer who allows these activities is likely to be in breach of OHS legislation.

Potential sources of risk are factors that may increase the risk of injury during these activities.

Reduced-risk solution

Reduced-risk solutions are less effective in reducing risk than low-risk solutions. You should regularly review with the aim to move towards a low-risk solution.

Low-risk solution

Low-risk solutions are most effective at reducing risk and should be regarded as the target for all workplaces.

Key principles when selecting solutions

Postures, movements and forces known to be associated with MSDs should be eliminated from the workplace wherever reasonably practicable.

Employees should never routinely work above their shoulder height, below their knees or at full reach distance.

Physical changes to workplace design, layout and plant are more effective than administrative risk controls.

Workstations should be easy to adjust to suit the person and the task.

Reasonably practicable control measures

Under the OHS Act, you must consider certain matters when working out what is reasonably practicable for your workplace. Those are:

  • the likelihood of the hazard or risk concerned eventuating
  • the degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk eventuated
  • what you know, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk and any ways of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk
  • the cost of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk

Manual handling work

Plant and other hazards

Before changing equipment, ensure that any new risks are identified and controlled. Examples include access to powered components with trapping points or in-running nip points.

Where guarding is required to control a plant risk, the Hierarchy of Control needs to be considered. Implement a traffic management process to separate pedestrians from powered mobile plant such as forklifts.

Ensure carcass loads are carried within the manufacturer's working load limit (WLL) for the equipment. Ensure employees are trained and assessed to be competent in the use of plant and equipment. This include using load shifting equipment such as powered pallet jacks.

Have an inspection process that, monitors the condition of machinery and equipment, including rails, shackles and drive chains. There needs to also be a maintenance processes to ensure the machinery and equipment remain in a condition that is safe and suitable for use.

Guidance on plant and machinery

Labour hire

Labour hire is when a labour hire provider provides labour hire workers to another company on a fee or contract basis. The company the labour hire workers are placed with is known as the host employer. The host employer is the client of the labour hire provider.

Under the OHS Act the host employer is taken to be the employer of any labour hire workers a labour hire provider has supplied, placed or recruited to work for the employer. The host employer has the same health and safety duties to labour hire workers as any other employee.

The labour hire and host organisation should ensure:

  • training, skills and experience of labour hire workers are tested and match the needs of the task
  • all risks related to the task are controlled before work starts
  • the labour hire worker is shown systems of work
  • the labour hire worker is adequately supervised
  • the labour hire worker is able to consult with both the labour hire employer and host organisation
  • the labour hire worker knows what to do when health and safety issues happen at the workplace

More information on labour hire

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)

CALD refers to people from a range of countries and ethnic and cultural groups. It includes people of non–English speaking backgrounds as well as people born outside Australia but whose first language is English, and encompasses a wide range of experiences and needs.

Support your CALD employees. For more information view Support your culturally and linguistically diverse workforce on the WorkSafe Victoria website.

Employers must ensure that all of the information in this guidance is available to staff either in their preferred language or in a form that they can understand.

Related information