Manual material handling in the workplace is concerned with the process in which an object is moved through spaces solely under the power of the human operator. Such activities may include lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, lowering, and all other similar tasks. In addition, pushing a cart or using a mechanical assist is often included in the manual material handling category.

There should be no argument that manual material handling is a high risk activity in many industries. Statistics provide more than enough data to support this affirmation. Here are just some of the injuries that are related to manual material handling:

  • Muscle strain – Although it may not seem like such a serious injury, muscle strain is a problem for workers especially when it occurs repetitively. Muscle strain usually happens when workers lose balance or control of the load and ultimately get injured.
  • Overexertion – Overexertion happens when the worker tries to lift a really heavy load or sometimes a load above the shoulder or head level. These tasks that require extreme postures and awkward handling are often found to be the leading causes of overexertion.
  • Fatigue – This is the most common symptom of frequent manual material handling. Muscle fatigue affects the workers by wearing their body down. Ultimately, their body yields to injury and leads to the cumulative trauma model.

The number of MMH-related incidents is incredible. Thousands of workers are affected by overexertion injuries associated with lifting. The costs of these injuries results in billions of dollars lost each year. There are approximately 14-18 million cases of cumulative trauma disorder in the US each year!

When addressing manual material handling in a warehouse facility, you need to accept that it represents a risk and that risk can lead to serious injuries. In addition, you have to view manual material handling as an integral part of the business, which needs to be designed to be safe, efficient, and productive. The first goal in eliminating risk related to manual material handling is to actually eliminate manual material handling whenever possible simply because of the risk that it involves.

Reducing injuries from manual material handling involves three main steps: identifying and assessing the risks, controlling the risks, and finding more ergonomic solutions. While identifying and controlling risks are not such difficult tasks, finding solutions to reduce or eliminate the risk associated with manually handling a load can be a difficult decision. In the end, you will have to look thoroughly at the task or tasks to be performed and see what types of equipment can make the job easier and more ergonomic.

In order to reduce the risks associated with manual material handling, you have to look into the type of tasks performed on your premises. So what are you handling and what are you doing with the load? Different industries will have different requirements. You can handle boxes, pallets, and sheets, and you can lift, carry, pull, or push them. Depending on your answer, you can work closely with an equipment manufacturer to configure the equipment that will best assist you in your manufacturing tasks.

Mike Earle


Tags employee safetyemployeesinjurymanual material handlingmechanical lift safetyreducing injuriessafetywarehouse safetywarehouse safety topicsworkplace injury