Manual Handling Injuries: Examples, Risks, and Prevention Strategies

Manual handling injuries in the workplace are not only prevalent but also span across most occupations, placing a vast majority of employees at potential risk. Understanding the scope and severity of these injuries is critical for both employees and employers.

Employers must recognise their responsibility in creating a safe work environment, adhering to their duty of care to mitigate these risks. This article delves into the most common types of manual handling injuries, exploring the risks involved, and outlining effective prevention strategies to fulfill legal obligations and ensure employee safety.

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Vital Manual Handling Training

Given the widespread and serious nature of manual handling injuries in the workplace, it’s crucial for both employees and employers to be well-equipped with the right knowledge and skills. At Skills Training College, we offer specialised courses designed to empower you with the necessary expertise to create a safer work environment.

For those new to this essential aspect of workplace safety, our Manual Handling Certificate course is the perfect starting point. It provides comprehensive training on best practices, risk identification, and injury prevention strategies.

If you’re looking to update or refresh your knowledge, our refresh manual handling skills course offers an excellent opportunity to stay current with the latest safety standards and techniques.

Enrol now at Skills Training College and take a proactive step towards ensuring a safer workplace.

The Top 10 Injuries from Manual Handling

In Australia, a notable proportion of workplace injuries are linked to incorrect manual handling methods. Over 40% of workplace injuries in the country result from manual handling mishaps, with 24.2% of employees who have experienced a workplace injury reporting it as a manual handling injury.

These injuries encompass a range of conditions including musculoskeletal disorders, sprains, strains, back issues, soft-tissue damage, hernias, and chronic pain. Hazardous manual handling tasks that often lead to such injuries involve activities like lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving. They also include instances of repeated actions, sustained or intense force, maintaining awkward positions, and repetitive movements.

Gaining insight into the types of injuries caused by manual handling is a crucial step towards their prevention. To aid in this understanding, we have prepared a list of the top 10 most frequent injuries resulting from manual handling, highlighting the key areas to be managed for better safety.

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Back Complaints

Common in the workplace, back injuries often stem from improper manual handling. Poor lifting, carrying, or setting down of heavy objects puts immense strain on the back, leading to injuries that can evolve into chronic health issues if untreated.

Hand Injuries

Given the hands’ critical role in manual handling, injuries such as broken fingers, fractures, cuts, burns, and strains are frequent. These injuries often occur when proper manual handling techniques are not employed.

Foot Injuries

Incorrect handling of heavy items can lead to them slipping and crushing the feet, resulting in bruises or broken bones, often due to sudden drops or improper placement of loads.

Shoulder Complaints

Shoulder injuries, including dislocations and rotator cuff damage, can occur even with correct lifting techniques, particularly if excessive weight is placed on the shoulders.

Neck Complaints

Lifting objects that are too heavy can strain the neck, causing tears in the ligaments, muscles, and tendons, leading to stiffness, pain, and reduced neck mobility.

Strains and Sprains

These injuries can happen to any body part under excessive stress from lifting or moving heavy weights, commonly affecting legs, wrists, and arms, and potentially leading to chronic conditions.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Carrying large objects can obstruct vision and increase the risk of slips, trips, or falls, potentially leading to severe injuries, especially if the carried object falls onto the person.

Lacerations and Cuts

Handling objects with rough or sharp surfaces can lead to cuts or lacerations. Caution and protective gear, like gloves, are essential to avoid such injuries.


Repeated straining of stomach muscles while lifting heavy objects can lead to various types of hernias, such as inguinal, femoral, umbilical, and hiatal, all of which are painful and may require surgical intervention.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

These work-related conditions affect bones, joints, and muscles. Known as WRMSDs, they are classified into upper and lower limb disorders and typically develop over a long period, unlike immediate injuries such as sprains or strains.

Preventing Manual Handling Injuries in the Workplace

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Safe Work Australia reports that manual handling injuries rank as the leading work-related issue in Australia, with a staggering 90% of serious claims stemming from injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. This encompasses sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, and tendons, as well as back and soft tissue injuries. The significant median time lost due to these injuries and disorders, amounting to 5.1 working weeks, highlights the urgent need for businesses and employees alike to prioritise the reduction and elimination of risks linked to manual handling tasks.

Effectively managing the risks of manual handling tasks offers numerous advantages. Beyond ensuring compliance with Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws and safeguarding worker safety, it also enhances productivity and helps in cutting down overall business costs.

Adhering to Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice ensures a secure environment for all employees in your workplace.

Identifying Hazards

It’s important to note that not every manual task is hazardous. A task becomes hazardous when it includes any of these elements:

  • Repetitive or sustained force (where ‘repetitive’ refers to actions repeated more than twice a minute, and ‘sustained’ means maintaining a posture or force for over 30 seconds)
  • Repetitive movements
  • Sustained or uncomfortable positions (‘awkward posture’ refers to unnatural or uncomfortable body positions)
  • High or abrupt force
  • Vibration exposure

To spot hazardous tasks, engage with employees about muscle discomforts, observe them during manual tasks, and review workplace injury records and assessments.

Risk Assessment

After identifying hazardous manual tasks, the next phase involves assessing if these tasks heighten the risk of manual handling injuries. Consider these factors that may escalate injury risk:

  • Nature of work: Prolonged stationary work can increase injury risk.
  • Workspace design: Inefficient layouts may lead employees to adopt poor manual handling techniques like twisting.
  • Object weight
  • Object placement: Objects positioned above shoulder height or below knee level might necessitate awkward lifting.
  • Task duration
  • Awkward or unwieldy loads

Mitigating Risks

Following the identification and assessment phases, the subsequent action is risk mitigation. Safe Work Australia suggests several methods for this:

  • Reevaluate the Task: Consider if the task is necessary and if there are alternative ways to complete it.
  • Modify the Object: For instance, divide a heavy load into smaller, more manageable units.
  • Alter the Workspace: Utilise ergonomic furniture and adjust workbench heights to reduce bending or stretching.
  • Adjust Environmental Conditions: This includes changes in temperature and exposure to vibrations.
  • Implement Mechanical Aids: Use tools like wheelbarrows, conveyor belts, cranes, or forklifts.
  • Vary Work Nature: Offer regular breaks and opportunities for diverse tasks.
  • Provide Adequate Training: Less experienced workers are more prone to injuries, so proper training is crucial.

Regular Reviews

Continuously review the effectiveness of these measures to address hazards and identify new issues. Minimising manual handling injuries is an ongoing process that should adapt to changes in the workplace environment.

Key steps to ensure the efficacy of risk management controls include:

  • Establishing accountability, empowering managers and supervisors with the necessary authority and resources to enforce and sustain control measures.
  • Regular equipment maintenance.
  • Keeping training current, especially for new employees.
  • Providing employees with up-to-date information on hazards.

Improve Workplace Safety and Enhance Your Career Prospects

If you’re keen on starting or advancing your career in Aged Care or Disability Services, understanding and managing manual handling risks is essential. At Skills Training College, we recognise the critical importance of this skill, especially in these sensitive and demanding fields.

Our courses in aged care and disability services are designed not only to enhance your professional knowledge and skills but also to ensure you can provide the safest and most effective care. As a bonus, these courses come with a FREE HLTWHS005 – Conduct Manual Handling (Statement of Attainment), equipping you with vital knowledge to prevent injuries and comply with WHS laws.

Take this opportunity to enhance your expertise and make a significant difference in the lives of those you care for. Enroll now at Skills Training College and step forward in your career with confidence and the right qualifications.

Summing Up

In conclusion, the prevalence of manual handling injuries in workplaces across various sectors highlights a critical health and safety issue. These injuries, ranging from musculoskeletal disorders to sprains and hernias, account for a significant number of workplace injury claims, as noted by Safe Work Australia.

Addressing this challenge requires a holistic approach, encompassing hazard identification, risk assessment, and the implementation of effective control strategies. Adhering to Safe Work Australia’s guidelines, employers can mitigate these risks by modifying tasks and workspaces, using mechanical aids, and providing thorough training.

Regular review and adaptation of safety measures are vital for maintaining effective risk management. This not only ensures compliance with safety laws but also enhances workplace productivity and reduces costs. Ultimately, prioritising the prevention of manual handling injuries through accredited training is crucial for the well-being of employees and the overall success of businesses.