Manual Handling – Back Injuries & How To Prevent Them

Man surrounded by cardboard boxes, hunched over holding his back in painManual handling causes many different types of workplace injury, however back injuries make up the majority of incidents. It’s important to remember that these injuries don’t just affect people carrying heavy loads. Manual handling refers to using your body to exert force to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold, restrain or set down a load, which can be any kind of object.

300,000 people a year suffer from back pain in the UK due to manual handling accidents – it is vital employers protect their workers, and that everyone involved knows how to stay safe.

TILE – The 4 Key Areas of Manual Handling

There are four key areas to be considered when looking at how to prevent back pain and injury: the task, individual, load, and environment. This TILE principle acts as prompt to remind you of each essential area of the activity in order to improve health and safety and reduce the risk of injury. The basic components of each area in terms of manual handling are as follows:

T – Task

Worker pushing boxes in a warehouseThe type of task and movement involved is important to assess before moving a load. The best way to avoid injury is to avoid manual handling altogether, but if this is not possible you should consider:

  • Stooping: Stooping can put a greater strain on the lower back and increase risk of injury. If possible, assess the task and look for ways to avoid stooping.
  • Stretching: Avoid lifting from shoulder height to reduce the risk of injury, especially if the load is heavy – heavy weights should be stored at waist height.
  • Twisting: Twisting your lower back stresses the whole structure of your back. To avoid this, turn your feet and whole body in the direction you want to move.
  • Distance: Where possible, you should always use mechanical aids to reduce the strain of moving objects across a longer distance.
  • Pushing and Pulling: If possible, push rather than pull. Ensure your path is unobstructed and you are wearing slip-resistant footwear.
  • Repetitive Handling:  If possible, avoid repeating the same task, as this uses the same muscles continually which can lead to injury. Try to vary your tasks or, if this is not possible, allow yourself time to rest in between.

Woman exercising with ropesI – Individual

Individual factors, including age, health, and fitness level, can affect someone’s ability to undertake manual handling task. Everyone’s situation is different, and only you know what you are capable of – only lift what you can comfortably handle, and if you are unsure about anything or have any particular needs, inform your manager.

Whilst some individual factors cannot be changed, there are some you can control. For example, you can ensure that you are wearing the correct footwear, PPE, and clothing for the task to reduce the risk of injury. You can also take preventative action by exercising and strengthening your core muscles, and learning the correct lifting techniques.

someone carrying boxes, blocking their view

L – Load

Before lifting, you should check the load for the following:

  • Weight
  • Sharp/torn edges
  • If it will block your view
  • If it is bulky/not easy to hold
  • Any information displayed
  • If the contents move
  • If it is hot, wet, dirty or slippery

Round lights hanging from ceilingE – Environment

Before you move anything, make sure to check:

  • Floors are dry and level
  • You have enough room to manoeuvre
  • The temperature is comfortable
  • Lighting is sufficient.

What Training Can Help?

laptop with 'e-learning' on the screen, hands typing on the keyboard

Manual Handling Awareness E-Learning – This course is suitable for any worker, as all workplaces have manual handling tasks, and covers the basics of manual handling. It is particularly useful for employees working in a low risk environment who may have manual handling activities as part of their daily tasks.

Physical Activity Training E-Learning – This course is all about learning the importance of physical activity in helping to lead a healthy lifestyle, and is therefore suitable for any employee in any type of organisation.



For more guidance regarding manual handling, head over to the HSE website. We are also currently running an offer on our Manual Handling and Physical Activity courses for this month only! Get 10% off these online training courses with the code ‘manualhandling10’ at checkout.


To keep up to date with the latest health & safety news and advice, follow us on social media:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn