Manual handling: an ever-present risk


Published: 5 February 2019

Credit to: Fearl /

Despite continued industry awareness and guidance published on manual handling, numerous musculoskeletal injuries are reported to the Club every year [1].

A manual handling task should never be attempted without referring to or carrying out a risk assessment. This means a formal risk assessment of all manual handling tasks, both routine and one off, performed by a person who is trained and competent to do so, using the company's approved form and ensuring that records are maintained in line with procedures.

To ensure that a full assessment of the task and potential risks involved is made, a methodology should be adopted and what is best known under the TILE acronym is a recommended approach:


Think about the activity. Does it involve; twisting, stooping, bending, reaching up, pushing/pulling, positioning the load, sudden movement, limited rest or recovery periods, team handling, seated handling?


Who will be carrying out the activity. Are they pregnant, suffering from health problems, being physically unsuitable to carry out the task, wearing unsuitable clothes or other effects, inadequately experienced, trained or equipped.


What is the object that is being moved. Is it heavy, bulky, unwieldy or difficult to hold, unstable or harmful; hot, cold, sharp, or dangerous if dropped.


The area in which the load is being moved. Does the space allow for safe height and good posture to be maintained, is the surface slippery, uneven or unstable, is there variation in the level of the deck, is movement or posture hindered by personal protective equipment or clothing and is there adequate lighting?

Manual lifting should only be undertaken by personnel who have been trained to do so and if in doubt stop the work and seek further advise and evaluation. It is also to be reminded that pregnant personnel should never perform manual handling.

The UK MCA Code of Safe Working Practices 2018 (COSWP) includes the below illustration regarding safe weights for manual lifting. It is to be reminded that these weights are not fixed and vary with the capability of the individual undertaking the task. The safe limits will be reduced if the action to be performed involves twisting or to be repeated over a short time period.

COSWP Chapter 10 covers manual handling in depth as well as the TILE methodology of assessment and is freely available at the following link.


[1] UK MCA Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers defines manual handling as any operation that includes any transporting or supporting of a load, lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving by hand or bodily force.