Metal fabrication: Improving safety with layout and design for transporting materials

Guidance for employers on how to use layout and design to reduce or eliminate health and safety risks in the metal fabrication industry whilst transporting materials.


Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

To achieve this, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide employees and independent contractors with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Layout and design

Making changes to the layout and design of a workplace can improve safety by impacting how materials are transported to, within and from the workplace.

When making changes to the layout and design of a workplace, you should:

  • plan out work areas for the workshop
  • consider how materials and the mechanical handling equipment will move in and out of the workstations  
  • ensure layout and design facilitates a linear workflow through the worksite from receipt of raw materials through to despatch of finished manufactured product
  • ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the layout of plant at the workplace does not affect entry to and exit from the workplace to the extent that it presents a risk


Hazardous manual handling can cause injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These injuries can be debilitating, long-term and severely affect a person's quality of life.

These include:

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

Transporting materials in the metal fabrication industry, from the raw material storage area, through each production process, to the distribution of the final product, may involve moving items that range in size, shape and weight, with many being large, bulky or awkward.

Transporting these materials may involve hazardous manual handling as the work may involve the use of high force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move or hold these items.

There may be an increased risk of MSD if these actions are performed in combination with awkward postures.

Failure or malfunction of mechanical handling equipment may result in serious injury or death to operators and employees.

Controlling risks

Workplace layout and design

Materials should require minimal transporting around the worksite by storing them close to where they are delivered or where they will be used (Figure 1).

Where employees are required to access materials, the workplace layout should allow employees to access materials within the employee’s best working zone.

The best working zone is the zone between mid-thigh and shoulder height, to prevent excessive reaching, back bending or twisting.

steel beams kept adjacent to the workstation where they will be used.
Figure 1: Materials are stored close to the workstation where they will be used.

Where reasonably practicable, use a conveyor (Figure 2) to move materials around the workshop rather than employees manually handling them.

multiple steel beams being moved on a conveyor
Figure 2: Conveyor is used to move materials through the production line.

Where reasonably practicable, use an automated process or device (Figure 3) to reduce the need for employees to manually handle materials.

steel beams being lifted onto a conveyor automatically by a machine
Figure 3: Automated lifting devices eliminate the need for employees to move stored materials onto the conveyor system.

There should be enough space for materials and mechanical handling equipment to move around the workplace (Figure 4). Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that loads are not transported over people.

crane moving on a yellow beem suspended above a worplace
Figure 4: Enough space for cranes to move loads around the workplace

Mechanical handling equipment

Mechanical handling equipment should be appropriate for the task. Consider both type and rating and that correct attachments are used.

Consider using the following to transport materials:

  • bridge and gantry cranes with remote or pendant controls
  • mobile cranes
  • electric walking stackers
  • forklifts
  • vacuum lifters
  • magnetic lifters

Ensure operators of mechanical handling equipment are trained and hold relevant licences or certificates.

Regularly inspect mechanical handling equipment. This equipment should be kept in good working order, with rated capacity information clearly marked.

Mechanical handling equipment should have a preventative maintenance schedule in place with appropriately qualified persons to conduct maintenance.

Electric walkie stacker that has handles allowing a user to move it around a lift items.
Figure 5: Electric walkie stacker
forklift mounted onto a small vehicle
Figure 6: Counter balanced forklift
yellow crane with a wooden object to be lifted
Figure 7: Freestanding jib crane with pendant control

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