OHS Matters: Hazardous Manual Handling

“I am almost 63 years old and was wondering what weight an employer can ask me to lift on a regular daily basis? I’m working in a job where the employer says that 20 kgs is the “standard weight”. But in reality we’re often told to lift and carry bags that are closer to 25 kgs, and this can be up to 50 times a day. I feel this is too heavy for someone my age. After I raised this, the site supervisor gave us a demonstration on safe lifting techniques, and put some posters up in the lunchroom.”


Our OHS laws, except in some very limited circumstances (exposure to lead) do not discriminate in terms of age or sex. Further, there is no weight limit in the laws, but this is simply because lifting just 5 kg can be hazardous manual handling and cause a musculoskeletal injury. This is irrespective of both the age and the sex of the worker. The employer has a legal duty under the regulations to identify and then eliminate, as far as practicable, any manual handling that is hazardous and likely to cause an injury.

Part 3.1 of the regulations: Hazardous Manual Handling require the employer to undertake a risk identification and assess all the factors involved in the manual handling tasks in the workplace to identify whether there are risks. There are many factors in addition to or apart from weight which must be taken into account. If any such risks are identified, then the employer must take measures, according to the hierarchy of control in the regulations, to eliminate/minimise those risks.

The definition of hazardous manual handling in the regs is that if the work involves one or more of the following:

• repetitive or sustained application of force;

• sustained awkward posture;

• repetitive movement;

• application of high force involving a single or repetitive use of force that it would be reasonable to expect that a person in the workforce may have difficulty undertaking;

• exposure to sustained vibration;

• manual handling of live persons or animals;

• unstable or unbalanced loads or loads which are difficult to grasp or hold

Lifting 20 kgs regularly is certainly hazardous – lifting 25 kgs 50 times each day is even more hazardous. If there are other factors, such as twisting or bending this increases the risk of you and others sustaining a musculoskeletal injury.

This is a summary of regulation 27 – Control of risk, which sets out the ‘hierarchy’ of control:

1 The employer must eliminate any risk of a musculoskeletal disorder associated with hazardous manual handling so far as is reasonably practicable; or

2 If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then reduce it so far as is reasonably practicable by -

a. altering--

i. the workplace layout, or

ii. the workplace environment, including heat, cold and vibration; or

iii. the systems of work which involve hazardous manual handling; or

b. changing the things used in the hazardous manual handling; or

c. using mechanical aids; or

d. any combining any of the risk control measures referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c).

If the employer has complied with sub-regulations (1) & (2), and risk remains, the employer must reduce that risk, so far as is reasonably practicable by using information, instruction or training.
The employer may ONLY rely solely or primarily on information, training or supervision IF none of the measures in subregulation (2) are reasonably practicable

This means the employer must not use information (including ‘safe lifting’ posters), instruction or training of workers in manual handling techniques as the sole or primary means of controlling risks UNLESS it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to eliminating/controlling the risk using any of the ways described in (1) & (2) above.

If people keep lifting these weights, then someone will be hurt. Hopefully you work on a unionised site: go find your elected health and safety rep. The HSR can take the matter up with the employer and follow up with other action if necessary. If you don’t have an HSR, contact the union for assistance – both with this matter, but also to elect and train an HSR.