Island Earl 038b

Safe manual handling – What is that?


This post is the first in a series of 25. Each post will be dealing with a shipboard work related issue and how to cope with it. The first post is about safe manual handling.



The term “manual handling” relates to the moving of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling. The weight of the item is an important factor, but many other factors can create a risk of injury, for example the number of times you have to pick up or carry an item, the distance you are carrying it, where you are picking it up from or putting it down (picking it up from the floor, putting it on a shelf above shoulder level) and any twisting, bending stretching or other awkward posture you may adopt while doing a task.


What is the problem?

Incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) which account for over a third of all workplace injuries.

There may of course be other hazards to those handling loads, for example from leakage of a hazardous substance from a package being moved, but these are dealt with separately.


What should the employer do about it?

So far as is reasonably practicable, the employer must take appropriate measures or provide the means to avoid the need for any manual handling operations which may cause injury to workers, for example by reorganisation of the work, or automating or mechanising the operation.

Before instructing personnel to lift or carry by hand where there is a risk of injury, employers should consider whether alternative means of doing the same job would reduce the risk of injury.

Where there is no practical alternative to manual handling, the employer must :

  1. Carry out a risk assessment of the manual handling operations;
  2. Take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury;
  3. Provide workers with general indications, and where it is available, precise information on:
    • the weight of each load;
    • where the centre of gravity of any load is not positioned centrally, the heaviest side of the load;
  4. Provide workers with proper training and information on how to handle loads correctly and the risks to their health and safety from incorrect handling.

Means of reducing the risk of injury may include:

  • Re-organisation of work stations (to enable workers to maintain good posture while lifting or carrying); and
  • Taking account of an individual’s capabilities when allocating tasks.

There are often severe limitations in a ship on the improvements that can be made, but the employer should ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, risks have been minimised.

Instruction for personnel may involve experienced and properly trained personnel demonstrating best practice especially to new recruits.


What should the seafarer do about it?

Seafarers must make full and proper use of any system of work provided by the employer.

The following checks must be carried out BEFORE any manual handling:

  • Can you avoid the need to manually lift the item?
  • Can you reduce the risk of injury by using mechanical aids, two-man lifts, etc.?
  • Have you taken part in the risk assessment process?
  • Have you conducted toolbox talk?
  • Have you checked:
    • The task?
    • That co-workers understand the plan?
    • Load and weight known?
    • Working environment and route?


Basic Handling Steps

  1. Stop, check and think;
  2. Position your feet close to the load and shoulder width apart;
  3. Adopt a good posture – bend at the knees and keep your back straight;
  4. Get a firm grip of the load;
  5. Keep the load close to your body; and
  6. Move or change position with your feet – do not twist or stretch your back.


Remember your “Stop work Authority”. If you see something that does not look right in your eyes, and you stop the work, you might have saved someones health or even life!