Hazardous manual tasks such as lifting, pushing and pulling

  • Construction work activities often involve hazardous manual tasks that can stress the body and lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), a general term for many different kinds of injuries or diseases of the muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues.

Hazardous manual tasks are tasks that require a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person or thing that involves one or more of the following: 

  • Repetitive movement 
  • Repetitive or sustained force 
  • High or sudden force 
  • Sustained or awkward postures 
  • Exposure to vibration. 

Hazards can come from: 

  • Work tasks and how they’re performed 
  • Work design and management  
  • The tools, equipment and objects handled, and 
  • The physical work environment. 

MSD may include: 

  • Sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons. 
  • Back injuries. 
  • Joint and bone injuries or degeneration. 
  • Nerve injuries or compression (for example carpal tunnel syndrome). 
  • Muscular and vascular disorders as a result of hand-arm vibration. 
  • Soft tissue injuries such as hernias. 
  • Chronic pain (pain that lasts longer than three months). 
  • Acute pain (pain that lasts less than three months). 

MSD can happen: 

  • Slowly, through gradual wear and tear from repetitive or continuous movements, including static body positions 
  • Suddenly, through strenuous activity or unexpected movements – for example, handling a load that shifts position. 

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a duty to keep workers and workplaces safe from the risks of manual handling. You must assess and manage the risks of manual tasks. Otherwise, workers could develop MSD. 


PCBU duties


Worker duties

You must ensure the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable.

You must manage the risks of manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable.

You must consult with workers, and health and safety representatives (HSRs) if you have them, about health and safety issues that may directly affect them. You must also consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with any other duty holders who you share a duty with.

Your PCBU has a duty to keep you and your workplace safe from risks associated with manual tasks.

You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your safety and that of others in the workplace including ensuring your acts and omissions don’t adversely affect others health and safety.

Comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your PCBU at the workplace.

Managing the risks of hazardous manual tasks

As a PCBU, you must manage the risks of hazardous manual tasks in the workplace by:

  • Identifying the hazards – the postures, movements and forces that poses a risk of MSD and assessing the risks – when they become dangerous and why it is happening.
  • Controlling the risks by eliminating the risks of hazardous manual tasks, so far as is reasonably practicable and if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks of hazardous manual tasks, minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable. You must follow the hierarchy of controls in controlling the risks.
  • Reviewing hazards and revising control measures, where necessary, to ensure they’re working as planned.

You should do a risk assessment for all manual tasks you think may be hazardous. The only time you might not need to do this is when you already know about the risk and how to control it. 

Eliminate risks of manual tasks 

Think about hazardous tasks when you’re planning a workplace or job. 
The most cost-effective way to manage hazards – and best way to prevent MSD – is with good work design. Try to design the work without hazardous manual tasks – for instance automating systems to eliminate the need for workers to carry loads. 

Control measures for hazardous manual tasks 

If you can’t eliminate the risks, these are some control measures to minimise them: 

  • Change the design or layout of work areas to minimise manual handling.  
  • Ensure workspace heights are appropriate to reduce the need for awkward postures. 
  • Re-design tasks to minimise manual handling, for example by using mechanical aids.  
  • Rotate manual handling tasks between workers to reduce the strain from repetitive movements.  
  • Provide training on correct manual handling procedures. 

See Part 4.2 of the model WHS Regulations for more information.

For more information

Model codes of practice

Other resources

  • Did you know

    The WHS regulator in your state or territory can provide practical advice, resources and tools to help you be safe when working in construction. They can also let you know which WHS laws apply to you.