Lifting, pushing and pulling (manual tasks)

As a person conducting a business or undertaking, 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 health conditions called musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).  

What are MSD? 

MSD are an injury or disease of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues. 

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. 

WHS duties  

Everyone in the workplace has WHS duties under the model WHS Act.  

You have specific duties if you are: 

  • a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) 

  • a principal contractor 

  • a designer, manufacturer, importer, supplier and installer of plant, substances or structures 

  • an officer. 

The model WHS Regulations have duties that apply to manual handling. This includes managing risks of hazardous manual tasks, plant and the work environment.  

As a PCBU, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:  

  • ensure the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace  

  • consult with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a health and safety matter, and 

  • consult cooperate and coordinate activities with all other relevant duty holders. 

Designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant and structures also have specific duties. 

They must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that products don’t pose risks to health and safety. This includes making sure they won’t result in MSD risks, when used as intended. The model Code of Practice – Hazardous manual tasks explains how to manage the risks of hazardous manual tasks. 

Hazardous manual tasks 

Some manual tasks can stress the body and lead to MSD. Hazardous manual tasks are tasks that require a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal 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. 

This could include tasks like restraining live animals or sorting objects on a conveyor belt. The workplace vibration guidance material has more information on managing vibration and its risks. 

Hazards can come from: 

  • work tasks and how they’re performed 

  • work design and management  

  • the tools, equipment and objects handled 

  • physical work environment. 

To prevent MSD, you should: 

  • identify hazardous manual tasks 

  • eliminate or minimise the risks associated with them.  

The first step in the risk management process is to identify hazardous tasks.  

Risk assessment for hazardous manual tasks 

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. 

Your workers can help identify potential hazards in their work.  

Consider workers who may be more at risk of developing an MSD. For example, an inexperienced worker or worker with a previous injury. 

Your risk assessment of manual tasks will identify: 

  • postures, movements and forces that pose a risk 

  • when they may become dangerous 

  • why they’re happening 

  • ways to eliminate or minimise the risk. 

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 with 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 

  • redesign 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. 

Supporting information