Hazardous Manual Tasks

Chapter 4, Part 2 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012

A hazardous manual task means a task that requires a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal, or thing that involves 1 or more of the following:

  • repetitive or sustained force;
  • high or sudden force;
  • repetitive movement;
  • sustained or awkward posture;
  • exposure to vibration;

Examples –

  1. A task requiring a person to restrain live animals.
  2. A task requiring a person to lift or move loads that are unstable or unbalanced or are difficult to grasp or hold.
  3. A task requiring a person to sort objects on a conveyor belt.

Musculoskeletal disorder injuries arising from manual tasks contribute to around 40% of all compensable injuries and cost the South Australian community around $28.5 million each year. Men and women are affected in similar numbers, but the nature of injury differs across industries. SA WorkCover statistics suggest that high risk occupations include heavy truck drivers, construction workers, commercial cleaners, store persons, process workers, factory hands, personal care attendants, nurses, meat work labourers and metal fabricators are most at risk.


What is a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)?

A musculoskeletal disorder, as defined in the WHS Regulations, means an injury to, or a disease of, the musculoskeletal system, whether occurring suddenly or over time. It does not include an injury caused by crushing, entrapment (such as fractures and dislocations) or cutting resulting from the mechanical operation of plant.

MSDs may include conditions such as:

  • sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • back injuries, including damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, nerves, joints and bones
  • joint and bone injuries or degeneration, including injuries to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle, hands and feet
  • nerve injuries or compression (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • muscular and vascular disorders as a result of hand-arm vibration
  • soft tissue hernias
  • chronic pain.

MSDs occur in two ways:

  • gradual wear and tear to joints, ligaments, muscles and inter-vertebral discs caused by repeated or continuous use of the same body parts, including static body positions
  • sudden damage caused by strenuous activity, or unexpected movements such as when loads being handled move or change position suddenly.

Injuries can also occur due to a combination of these mechanisms, for example, body tissue that has been weakened by cumulative damage may be vulnerable to sudden injury by lower forces.

(Reference: Code of Practice – Hazardous Manual Tasks)


How to  identify hazardous manual tasks

Consult your workers
Workers who perform manual tasks can provide valuable information about discomfort, muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards. For example, you could ask workers to identify tasks that:

  • are difficult to do (or appear harder than they should be)
  • are very tiring (muscle fatigue reduces work capacity)
  • are awkward or dangerous (for example, difficulty controlling loads)
  • cause discomfort.


Review available information

Records of workplace injuries and incidents, inspection reports and any workers compensation claims made for MSDs should be reviewed to help identify which manual tasks may cause harm. However, not all hazardous manual tasks will be associated with reported incidents, therefore it is important to gather additional information.

Information and advice about hazardous manual tasks and risks relevant to particular industries and work activities is available from regulators, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.


Look for trends

You may be able to identify trends or common problems from the information you collect. Trends may show that certain tasks have more characteristics that make them hazardous or that some characteristics are more common in certain jobs. Trends may also show that workers in a particular location are exposed to more hazardous manual tasks than in other areas and this could indicate a problem with the design and layout of that work area or the way work is carried out there.

These trends may help in deciding which manual tasks should be addressed as a priority.


Observe manual tasks

Hazardous manual tasks can also be identified by looking at how people actually work and focusing on their postures and movements. A manual task is hazardous if it involves any of the following characteristics:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained and/or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration

Things to look out for include:

  • any changes that have resulted in new manual tasks or a changed environment
  • tasks involving tools, machinery or equipment that do not work properly or are difficult to use, and
  • if workers have made improvisations to tasks to avoid discomfort (such as stacking mats or flattened cartons to stand on).


When should a risk assessment be conducted?

You should carry out a risk assessment for any manual tasks that you have identified as being hazardous, unless the risk is well-known and you know how to control it. A risk assessment can help you determine:

  • which postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk
  • where during the task they pose a risk
  • why they are occurring
  • what needs to be fixed.


How to do a risk assessment for hazardous manual tasks

Identify who should participate in the risk assessment, for example those workers who do the task or their health and safety representative, and management who have control over how the task is done. Describe the task and area where the manual task is performed. Note which body parts are likely to be at risk of injury, then work through the assessment together to determine which risk factors pose a risk and why the risk exists.

The whole task should be examined, although it may help to look at the task in stages to identify all of the risk factors. For example, the task of putting stationery items away in a storage cabinet may involve the following steps:

  • collecting boxes of stationery supplies from the delivery dock – handling boxes that are bulky may increase the risks associated with this task
  • transporting stationery supplies to the storage area – using a trolley with poorly maintained wheels may increase effort
  • unpacking boxes of stationery supplies – unpacking boxes from the floor may increase awkward postures
  • placing supplies on storage shelves – shelving heights that are too high or too low may increase awkward postures.

Looking at each if the steps identifies the different sources of risk, which are the things that should be changed to control the risks.

For some complex situations, expert or specialist advice may be useful when conducting a risk assessment. There are a range of risk assessment tools that may be used.


Controlling the Risks

Now you know which risk factors are present, where they are present and why they are present (sources of the risk), you are in a position to know what must be controlled and work out how to do it.


The hierarchy of control

The ways of controlling the risk of MSDs are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of risk control.  The WHS Regulations require duty holders to work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risk in the circumstances. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls.

Hierarchy of control Examples of control measures
Level 1 Elimination
  • Automate the manual task
    (such as using remote controls)
  • Deliver goods directly to the point of use to eliminate multiple handling
Level 2 Substitution
  • Replace heavy items with those that are lighter, smaller and/or easier to handle
  • Replace hand tools with power tools to reduce the level of force required to do the task
  • Isolate vibrating machinery from the user, for example by providing fully independent seating on mobile plant
  • Use mechanical lifting aids
  • Provide workstations that are height adjustable
Level 3 Administrative
  • Rotate workers between different tasks
  • Train workers to use control measures implemented when carrying out manual tasks
Personal protective equipment
  • Heat resistant gloves for handling hot items
  • Shock absorbent shoes for work on hard concrete floors


Other points to consider in controlling the risk

Purchasing to eliminate or minimise risks
Before purchasing equipment you should always check whether the item has been designed so that it can be used safely and best matches the needs of your workers. Where possible, you should:

  • brief designers and engineers so that consideration can be given to the design implications on the manual tasks performed
  • liaise with manufacturers and suppliers about handling, delivery and storage requirements
  • purchase ergonomically designed tools and equipment that suit the work being carried out and the physical characteristics of the workers
  • check any vibration specifications

Changing the design or layout of work areas
A well-designed work area will assist in eliminating or reducing the risk factors associated with a hazardous manual task, such as the degree of reaching, twisting or bending.

    Workstations should be designed to allow workers to work in an upright position, shoulders in a natural position (not elevated) and upper arms close to the trunk most of the time.
    Where it is possible to provide adjustable workstations consider altering the design so that:
    – the workstation height suits the widest range of physical characteristics of workers
    – reaching distances suit shorter workers
    – knee and leg clearances suit larger workers.
    Workers should not remain in a seated, standing or otherwise static posture for prolonged periods.
    For seated tasks, seating should have the following features:
    – adjustable seat height and angle
    – a contoured backrest with lumbar curve except those where the backrest would interfere with the actions to be performed
    – a swivel action to prevent the worker from twisting to reach workstation components
    – rounded seat edges
    – a five-point base with casters to allow movement on carpet, and gliders fitted to the base for low-resistance flooring, where access to work items located beyond normal reach is required
    – a footrest or foot ring fitted on drafting or higher chairs to support the feet.

A seated work position is best for:
– work that requires fine manipulation, accurate control or placement of small objects
– close visual work that requires prolonged attention
– work that involves operating a foot pedal

Workers carrying out standing tasks should be provided with:
– a chair, stool or support so that the worker can alternate between sitting and standing
– a footrest (large enough for the whole foot) to allow the worker to stand with either foot raised
– where possible, suitable floor covering to cushion concrete and other hard floors.

A standing work position is best when:
– large, heavy or bulky loads are handled
– forceful movements are required
– reaching is required
– movements away from the working position are frequent
– there is no knee room
– there is limited space


Using mechanical aids

Mechanical equipment may eliminate or reduce the need for workers to lift, carry or support items, animals or people. A wide range of mechanical aids is available for various industries, for example:

  • conveyors such as roller conveyors, elevating conveyors, belt conveyors, screw conveyors, chutes, monorails or trolley conveyors
  • cranes such as overhead travelling cranes or jib cranes, stacker cranes, industrial manipulators and articulating arms
  • lifting hoists
  • loading dock levellers
  • turntables
  • springs or gas struts, mechanical devices such as hand winches, hydraulic pumps, and battery powered motors
  • forklifts, platforms trucks, tractor-trailer trains, tugs and pallet trucks
  • lift tables, mechanical and hand stackers, lift trolleys, two-wheel elevating hand trucks, and vacuum or magnet assisted lifters
  • glass panel, duct and plaster lifters

Mechanical aids should be:

  • designed to suit the load and the work being done
  • as light as their function will allow
  • adjustable to accommodate a range of users
  • easy to use
  • suited to the environment in which the task is performed
  • located close to the work area so they are readily available but do not cause an obstruction
  • supported by a maintenance program to ensure they are safe and that the required effort to use them is kept at the lowest possible level
  • introduced with suitable instruction and training in their use.

When you introduce a mechanical aid into the workplace, you must provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure that new arrangements do not introduce any additional risks to workers, for example, a forklift operated in the same workspace used by other workers.


Handling people and animals


When people are being handled, the controls selected should take into account all of the sources of risks. Controls may include the following:

  • a mobility risk assessment: maximize the person’s ability to assist in the move through the use of appropriate advice, mechanical and/or assistive devices
  • moving the person to a place that does not constrain the movement of the worker performing the task, for example, using a shower trolley to bathe a patient
  • where handling is required, assessing the needs of the task including the specific type of mechanical aids and personnel needed, and planning it in a manner that avoids the hazardous manual task
  • where the use of a hoist requires two or more people provide adequate supervision and resources to eliminate the risk of workers being under time pressure and attempting the task on their own
  • planning how to handle a person attached to medical or other equipment
  • ensuring the location and storage of mechanical aids and assistive devices allows easy access
  • providing training for the safe use of mechanical aids and assistive devices.


Supporting or restraining animals should only be carried out by people with the necessary skills and experience. When animals are being handled consider the following:

  • using mechanical devices or other restraining aids for lifting, transporting or restraining animals
  • moving the animal to a place that constrains or minimises the movement of the animal before commencing the task
  • where handling is required, assessing the needs of the task including the specific type of mechanical aids and personnel, and planning it in a manner that avoids double-handling
  • where the use of a mechanical aid or assistive device requires two or more people, providing adequate resources so that workers under time pressure don’t try to complete the task on their own.

Implementing control measures

To implement the most effective risk controls, you should:

  • allow workers to trial solutions before decisions are made to make the solution permanent
  • review controls after an initial testing period, as they may need modification
  • develop work procedures to ensure that controls are understood and responsibilities are clear
  • communicate the reasons for the change to workers and others
  • provide training to ensure workers can implement the risk controls for the task competently
  • ensure that any equipment used in the manual task is properly maintained.

You should not make final decisions on the effectiveness of the control measures that you have implemented until enough time has passed for your workers to adjust to the changes. Workers should be given a chance to practice using the new workstation, tool, mechanical device or new work method. Some modifications may require workers to use the new muscle groups or different parts of the body and they may initially feel some discomfort. At this stage, you should frequently check with your workers how they feel the improvements are working.



Training in the type of control measures implemented should be provided during induction into a new job and as part of an on-going manual task risk control program. Training should be provided to:

  • workers required to carry out, supervise or manage hazardous manual tasks
  • in-house designers, engineers and officers responsible for the selection and maintenance of plant and/or the design and organisation of the job/task
  • any health and safety representatives.

The training should include information on:

  • manual task risk management, including the characteristics of hazardous manual tasks
  • specific manual task risks and the measures in place to control them
  • how to perform manual tasks safely, including the use of mechanical aids, tools, equipment and safe work procedures
  • how to report a problem or maintenance issues.

You should review your training program regularly and also when there is change to work processes, plant or equipment, implementation of new control measures, relevant legislation or other issues that may impact on the way the task is performed.

You should keep records of induction and training given to your workers. The records can include information such as the date of the session, the topics dealt with, and the name and signature of the trainer and each of the workers who attended the session.

Control measures that have been implemented must be reviewed and, if, necessary, revised to make sure they work as planned and to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Consult your workers involved in the manual task and their health and safety representatives and consider the following:

  • Are the control measures working effectively in both their design and operation, without creating new risks?
  • Are workers actively involved in the risk management process? Are they openly raising health and safety concerns and reporting problems promptly?
  • Have new work methods or new equipment reduced physical strain or difficulty?
  • Has instruction and training on hazardous manual tasks and the implemented control measures been successful?
  • Is the frequency and severity of MSDs reducing over time?
  • Is an alteration planned to any structure, plant or process that is likely to result in a worker being exposed to a hazardous manual task?
  • Has an incident occurred as a result of  a worker being exposed to a hazardous manual task?
  • If new information becomes available, does it indicate current controls may no longer be the most effective?

If problems are found, go back through the risk management steps, review your information and make further decisions about risk control.


The back is particularly vulnerable to manual task injuries. Safety suggestions include:

  • Warming up cold muscles with gentle stretches before engaging in any manual work.
  • Lift and carry heavy loads correctly by keeping the load close to the body (love the load) and lifting with the thigh muscles also using team lifting where appropriate
  • Never attempt to lift or carry a load that you think may be too heavy.
  • Pushing a load less stressful on your body than pulling a load. When pulling, make sure you use your body weight to assist.
  • Use mechanical aids or get help to lift or carry a heavy load whenever possible.
  • Organise the work area to reduce the amount of bending, twisting and stretching required.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Cool down after heavy work with gentle, sustained stretches.
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles and ligaments.
  • Maintain a relative level of fitness



  • Do not perform tasks that exceed your capacity
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the task
  • Use assistive equipment and report and damage
  • Carry items in one hand if carrying up stairs USE HANDRAILS
  • Plan and prepare for heavy or repetitive manual tasks
  • Balance sedentary postures and activity levels
  • Report any strains and sprains


Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012
Work Health and Safety Act 2012
Code of Practice – Hazardous Manual Tasks
Safework SA www.safework.sa.gov.au