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What are my employer's responsibilities in preventing back injury?
Your employer's duties are set out in The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (amended). These Regulations require your employer to apply control measures to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to you from manual handling of loads.
The Regulations set out a three-step approach your employer should take:
- Step 1: avoid the need for any manual handling involving risk of injury, "so far as is reasonably practicable”. This may include mechanisation, redesigning the tasks you do, or breaking down the loads you handle into manageable units.
- Step 2: where manual handling tasks cannot be avoided, assess the risks. In these circumstances, employers must review the risk factors associated with the manual handling you do. This includes:
- your tasks;
- the loads that you lift or carry, their weight and size;
- your working environment, such as the amount of space you work in, how it is organised, how much you have to twist and lift; and
- your individual capabilities.
- Step 3: reduce the risk of injury. After the risk assessment, your employer should introduce safe systems to minimise risks that you might face. The Regulations do not specify a maximum weight to be lifted. But employers must take steps to reduce manual handling to its lowest practicable level. They must provide you with information on the weight of each load, and the heaviest side of any load.
The HSE guidance says that the weights shown in the diagrams above are not meant to be interpreted as 'safe limits'. You may still be injured lifting lighter loads if other 'risk factors' are present, e.g. an awkward lifting position, or if it exceeds your individual capability.
If you are handling the kinds of weights shown in the figures then a risk assessment is likely to be needed. The figures assume that you are lifting easily held, compact loads in ideal conditions.
The HSE has published a Manual Handling Assessment Chart to identify ways of helping to prevent musculoskeletal disorders.
The HSE has also issued new guidance, including Making the Best Use of Lifting and Handling Aids.