HSE announces research shows traditional manual handling training is proving ineffective

HSE announces research shows traditional manual handling training is proving ineffective
HSE announces research shows traditional manual handling training is proving ineffective

The HSE have recently published an interesting article in which it states "research has shown that general training in lifting techniques is an ineffective way of controlling the risks of manual handling in businesses. By getting help to change the way you work, you can reduce manual handling risks and avoid paying for ineffective or unnecessary training".

MAAP is committed to promoting effective health and safety training in the small firm sector because too many workers are exploited and put at unnecessary risk. So, my first reaction on reading the article was to wonder if the HSE were intent on alienating all those small firms who had spent funds they could not really afford putting their workers on manual handling courses only because the HSE indicated it was the responsible action to take.

Having slept on the matter, I decided the HSE are making a valuable point, although I believe they could have pitched their argument a little differently. Perhaps by making the article more relevant to smaller firms.

The cost of implementing some of the suggested solutions in the article are far beyond the economic reach of many medium businesses, let alone the small and micro sized firms we work with.

I cannot avoid feeling the HSE missed an opportunity to make the point they were making more appealing to small firms too. So perhaps what I have to say below will bridge that gap.

So, accepting the HSE are right and firms should stop wasting their H&S budget on ineffective and unnecessary manual handling training … what do we recommend you should do?

  • Firms SHOULD continue the traditional manual handling training, but just bring it in-house and keep the costs down. Seasoned workers may well have heard the same H&S training mantra before, but being reminded does no one any harm … ignoring good advice will.

It is also too easy to forget about the benefit of learning about basic manual handling techniques for the first-time improvers new to the site ... They are the most vulnerable, because they will be used to collect and fetch gear and materials for the more experienced hands anyway.

Why is it a good idea to keep plugging away with the same old mantras? How many times have you been told attempting to lift more than 100kg with more than 4 people is a recipe for a serious injury? A worker was recently killed when 12 people were carrying a heavy beam. One faltered and in losing his contribution to the lift, the others could not support the weight and one of them was crushed to death in the fall.

  • Unless you are a gifted speaker who can engage with the audience, the chances are most toolbox talks on site achieve very little except to bore or irritate the people subjected to them. A valuable learning experience wasted.

On-site tool box talks are useful because they should address the specific manual handling risks that exist on that site and are therefore much more likely to prevent an accident if the safe working practices suggested are observed by one and all.


How to deliver successful toolbox talk on site.

  • Keep the talk to under 10 minutes. Less is more.
  • Distribute a single A4 handout addressing the specific manual handling risks that exist on that site, in bullet points, so the content can be read and digested quickly.
  • If anyone seriously believes the workers will keep them to be read later … they need a reality check .. unless you use bribery and incentives to increase the chances it will be read.
  • Try rewarding workers to engage in the learning process. Add an obscure H&S question on the back of the toolbox talk handouts. If a worker returns the correct answer, they are entered into a draw at the end of the week/month/job to win a prize of value (e.g. a bottle of spirits). Using tangible, short-term rewards to 'bribe' your workers into thinking about compliance is as good a way as any other ... and sadly is often more successful.


  • Remember, the HSE are not stating that all basic manual handling training is a waste of time. They are correctly highlighting the need to make what you do relevant to the kind of risks that exist in your environment.

Short tool-box talks can work on site, but you may care to try running an in-house training course yourself using any of the manual handling videos to be found of www.youtube.com.

I often try and find the most cringeworthy video offering and setup the audience to tear it apart. It is amazing how easy it is to let the audience lose and find they often volunteer all the learning objectives you may set for the session all by themselves, which is priceless in terms of effective learning.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to any of the online H&S e-learning course providers. We often run through an online course as a group. The standard of presentation often exceeds what most people can achieve in PowerPoint and the material leads you through the subject matter in a logical way. By pausing and challenging the group to bounce off the content just shown, it is incredibly easy to secure a positive learning outcome from the exercise. All you have to do is make it relevant to your work place environment. Job done!

The HSE’s suggested new approach is worth considering too!

Use the money you will save by not automatically sending your workers on 'ineffective' external courses ... and use it to greater advantage. 

  • ​​​​​​Think outside the box on manual handling. If your workers carry awkward and/or heavy loads, why not use the money you have saved on external training and buy in a few inexpensive manual handling aids.

These could include: hand grippers to carry heavy blocks or awkward panels; or sack trolleys that are designed to cope with stairs? The HSE are correct to point out the benefit of doing away with ineffective training and using the funds saved to buy in a few relevant manual handling aids and then instruct your staff on how to use them correctly in your work place. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

  • Here a few links to some lifting aids we could easily imagine fit the bill: