The Effect of Manual Handling Training

We have been contacted recently by a number of people regarding a recent Finnish report published in the British Medical Journal entitled ‘Effect of training and lifting equipment for preventing back pain in lifting and handling: systematic review.’

The research was undertaken with the intention of determining ‘whether advice and training on working techniques and lifting equipment prevent back pain in jobs that involve heavy lifting.’

To the surprise of many, the report concluded that ‘there is no evidence to support use of advice or training in working techniques with or without lifting equipment for preventing back pain or consequent disability’. In short, that manual handling training does not reduce the risk of back injury to workers. The report recommends ‘no lifting’ policies as the most efficient way of reducing back injuries.

EDGE Services obviously have a vested interest in this field. The findings of the report seem to contradict common sense and the anecdotal evidence that is collected by EDGE Services trainers up and down the country. Equally, Health & Safety Executive statistics have indicated a general decrease in manual handling injuries since the advent of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 1992 (MHOR, 1992) which endorsed training as a means of reducing the risk to staff.

Whilst the Kent court case found that local authorities could not implement a ‘no lifting’ policy, it is equally true that MHOR, 1992 make it clear that one should always avoid a manual handling task where it is reasonably practicable to do so.

The report does raise the possibility that the findings are partly explained by the fact that workers maintain ‘bad habits’ in spite of the training they have received. Employers who have provided training for their employees can, at least, feel satisfied that they have fulfilled their legal obligations in terms of the health and safety of their employees. Following any training provided it is the employees’ responsibility to undertake manual handling manoeuvres safely in the way they have been taught.

The report certainly makes some provocative statements with significant implications for the training of health and safety in the UK and beyond. It is clear that more research is needed to see whether the results of this report can be repeated. In the meantime, until the repeal of certain items of UK health and safety legislation, employers still have a duty to reduce the risk of injury to their employees and will continue to find that staff training is a recognised means of doing so. Any employer who does not take appropriate measures to reduce the risks to their employees may find it difficult to use the Finnish research as justification for not fulfilling their statutory duties.

Jump to top