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In order to understand how to perform safe lifting and moving techniques, it is important
to understand the biomechanics of the body.
Biomechanics is the relationship between body movements and the forces acting
on the musculoskeletal system.
First it is helpful to recognise the principles of the three classes of ‘lever’.
These are illustrated by the everyday examples below:

The musculoskeletal systems of the body operate in the same way:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10


From an understanding of the principles of levers it can be seen that the body’s
skeletal structure and its muscles act as levers.
In addition to any loads that the body tries to lift or move, it also has to bear its own
The heavier the load and the greater the lever distance from the relevant fulcrum
(or pivot), the greater the compensating effort required by the muscles and the
greater the compressive force on the fulcrum.
The back operates as a ‘first class lever’ in which a load carried by the arms or
hands has a compensating force provided by the back muscles with a fulcrum
compressive force acting through the vertebrae of the spine.
To appreciate the effect of leverage, consider the man in the diagram oppose lifting a
weight of say 5 Kg (W) (or approximately the weight of two 4 pint bottles of milk), at
forearms length which is about 400mm away from his spine (D).
The distance of the muscle running down the spine of his back is about 20mm away
from the centre (or pivot) line of the vertebrae of his back (d).
So, observing the diagram opposite:
Therefore, to keep the vertebrae of the man’s spine correctly aligned, the back
muscles contract with a compensating force (F) of 100 Kg – twenty times as much
as the weight being lifted – or similar to the weight of someone in a wheelchair!
Double the weight being carried or double the distance away from the body and the
muscle’s compensating force has to double as well.
No wonder the muscle and the spine and its delicate components can be so readily
When lifting an inanimate object, you
must make sure that the pathway you
have chosen is the shortest route, with
the least amount of movement to either
When carrying a load, even slightly twisting
your back can cause extreme stress on the
joints, as your body is essentially pushing
against resistance in the form of the object.
In this way it is extremely important to
always check that the way you are lifting,
and the route that you take, is the kindest to
your body.

Following on from this, your environment can often work against you. If you
have stairs to climb, slopes to walk up or down or even turning a corner, it can
make carrying a load much more difficult.

As well as these “natural” barriers, there can also be barriers left by human error.
For example wires lying across areas, rugs or loose carpet, unsteady stair steps
and faulty equipment such as stepladders; these can all make a manual handling
operation extremely difficult, if not
sometimes impossible.

There are two ways to avoid

environmental barriers when lifting a
One way is to ensure that you choose the
easiest path before lifting; taking a path that
does not include stairs, tight corners or any
of the barriers above.

The other way is to make sure you have

cleared all barriers out of the way. This again
has been discussed, but is much simpler
than changing the path of manual handling, which can sometimes be extremely difficult
if not impossible.
By taking the time to perform preparatory checks, any barrier that can be moved, should
be moved; leaving a clear path for you to perform your manual handling operation.


By closely following these points you will greatly reduce the risk of injuring yourself
during moving and lifting activities.
 Think and plan:
o Can handling aids be used?

o Prepare where the load is to be placed.

o Remove, or work out how to avoid,

obstructions on the way.

o Consider intermediate resting points if a

distance is involved.

 Lift what you can manage:

o There is a difference between what people
can lift and what they can safely lift

 Warn others:
o Telling people what is about to happen can prevent them getting in the way or
alert them in case help is needed

 Adopt a stable position:

o Feet apart with one leg slightly forward if the load is
on the ground to maintain balance

o Ensure that feet can move freely to maintain


 Get a good hold:

o Hugging close to the body may be better than
gripping tightly with the hands

 Keep a good posture:

o Don’t flex the back further once lifting

o Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways

especially while the back is bent; position
the feet to face the load

o Keep the head up; look ahead not down

o If possible start a lift with a slight bending of

the back, hips and knees rather than
fully bending over or squatting

 Keep the load close to the waist:

o For as long as possible whilst having to

o With the heaviest side nearest the body

o If possible slide the load towards

the body if a close approach is not possible

 Move smoothly:
o Jerky movement makes the load harder to control and can increase the risk of
 Put down, then adjust:
o Slide the load to the desired position after
putting down


The Health and Safety Executive have issued guidelines for limits to lifting
objects which are illustrated in the following diagram.

Each zone contains a guideline weight for lifting and lowering in that zone.
You’ll notice immediately that women should carry lower weights than men. Decide
which zones the hands will pass through to carry out the lifting or lowering movement of
the load. The maximum weight that should be handled is therefore the lowest weight
shown in those zones.
The maximum weights should be reduced by up to 20% if twisting to the side is
necessary for the handling movement.
If the pace of work is for more than 1 operation every two minutes, reduce the maximum
weight by up to 80%.

These guideline weight limits should also be reduced if any of the specific matters listed
under the TILEO headings (see above) apply.
Wheeled equipment should have handle heights that are between the shoulder and
The equipment should run smoothly and its wheels should be large diameter and on
It is better to push a load than to pull it, provided visibility and control are good.

Force needed to move a load

On a flat surface
– The force needed to move a load over a good flat surface with a well maintained
wheeled handling aid is about 2% of the load weight. Therefore, under ideal conditions,
a force of 2 Kg will be required to move someone in a wheelchair having a total weight
of 100 Kg.
On a sloping surface
– The force required is considerably larger than on a flat surface.
Up a gentle 1 in 12 slope, the force needed to move the 100 Kg. wheelchair will be
7.5% of its weight or 7.5 Kg.

On poor surfaces
– Rough or uneven surfaces will also increase the force needed.
Starting force
–This too can be considerable, especially on slopes and on poor surfaces.

Seek help
– Always ask someone else to help you whenever you experience or anticipate difficulty
pushing or pulling a load.


Team handling
Handling by two or more people may make possible an operation that is beyond the
capability of one person or reduce the risk of injury to a single handler.
Very approximately, the capability of a two person team is two thirds
the sum of their individual capabilities and the capability of a three person team
is half the sum of their individual capabilities.
The following points should be

 Team members should have similar

physical build and capabilities;
 One person should take charge;
 Method and route should be agreed
 If a slope or staircase has to be
negotiated, most of the weight will be
taken by the person at the lower end
and this will further reduce the team’s
 Team members may get in the way of each other’s sight or movement;
 Lack of proper handholds may restrict how the team members can work together;
 Background noise may make communication difficult;
 If a person is being carried they should be kept informed about what is happening.
 In summary:
We have looked at the different types of mechanical levers and how they
relate to the musculoskeletal system.
 From this we have seen how to lift objects in a safe manner and we have
noted the recommended weight limits for lifting.
 We have also looked at pushing and pulling and manual handling by a team.

 Next we will look at handling and moving people.
 We hope that you have enjoyed this section of Manual Handling.

Please proceed to Section 4 test, to complete this part of the course.

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