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Understanding and Managing the Risks of Manual Handling to Protect Health at Work

In the professional world, manual handling refers to any operation of transport or support of a load that requires the physical effort of one or several workers.

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This process may include lifting, placing, pushing, pulling, or carrying and moving various loads. The health risks associated with these tasks are significant, and it is the employer’s duty to implement strategies to avoid or limit them.

Prevention and Risk Assessment

Employers are responsible for preventing manual handling by using appropriate means, such as mechanical equipment, to ensure that workers do not have to manually handle loads. When manual handling cannot be avoided, often due to the layout of the premises, employers must then organize work to limit physical effort and minimize associated risks, particularly those affecting the back and lumbar region.

Employers must evaluate the risks associated with manual handling for the health and safety of workers. This involves considering the nature of the load, the required physical effort, the work environment, and the specific demands of the activity. Individual risks, such as the physical condition and capacity of each worker, are also considered.

Information, Training, and Limits

Workers must receive estimated and precise information on the weight of loads and their center of gravity, especially if the load is unbalanced. It is also crucial that they are trained and informed about the appropriate techniques and postures for safe handling. This practical training is essential to ensure that operations are executed in a technically correct manner.

There are strict limits on the weight that workers are allowed to carry. Without mechanical aid, a worker should not habitually lift loads exceeding 55 kg without medical approval and never more than 105 kg. For women, the threshold is lower, with a limit of 25 kg to avoid increased health risks.

A practical chart is often used to evaluate the actual risk and protect the health of workers. It must consider variables such as the gender and age of the workers and classify the risk as low, acceptable, or unacceptable. The goal is to ensure that workers are never subjected to conditions that could endanger them.

Low riskAcceptable riskConditional riskUnacceptable risk
Lift-carry a unit mass< 5 kg 5 à 15 kg 15 à 25 kg > 25 kg 
Transport distance of the load< 2 m 2 à 5 m 5 à 10 m > 10 m 
Ease of handlingAdaptedAcceptable Insufficient Inadequate
< 1h/j 
1 à 4 h/j 
4 à 7 h/j 

<1 t/h 
<0,5 t/h
<0,4 t/h 

1 à 2,5 t/h 
0,5 à 1,25 t/h 
0,4 à 1 t/h 

2,5 à 4 t/h 
1,25 à 2 t/h 
1 à 1,6 t/h 

>4 t/h 
>2 t/h 
>1,6 t/h 
Pallet truck

<100 kg
<200 kg 
<50 kg 

100 à 250 kg 
200 à 300 kg 
50 à 100 kg 

250 à 350 kg 
300 à 500 kg 
100 à 150 kg 

>350 kg 
>500 kg 
>150 kg 
Moving distance of mobiles<10 m 10 à 30 m 30 à 60 m >60 m 
Physical exertion felt
Percentage of maximum
Heart rate


10 à 30% 
90 à 120 

30 à 50% 
120 à 150 


In conclusion:

The management of manual handling risks is a crucial aspect of occupational health and safety. It requires continuous attention, rigorous evaluation, and thorough training to ensure a safe work environment for all.

Philippe Casanova

Specialist in occupational medicine and forensic medicine.