Background to Manual Handling at the University of Sydney

The University of Sydney launched the Masters of Manual Handling Program in 1997.

See the links below for background information on the history of this program.

What is Manual Handling?

Definition of Manual Handling:

Any activity requiring the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move or hold or restrain any object.

Legislative Requirement to Control Manual Handling Risks

The requirement to control manual handling risks is covered by three main legislative frameworks, as outlined below. Failure to adequately control risks can lead to organisational and personal fines.


NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000

General requirements for health, safety and welfare which must be met at all places of work in NSW.

NSW OHS Regulation 2001

Aims to support the OHS Act 2000 in achieving reductions of workplace injuries and disease. Replaces all regulations made under the OHS Act 1983, the Construction Safety Act 1912 and the Factories, Shops and Industries Act 1962. Contains detailed provisions on aspects of health and safety at work.

National Standard and Code of Practice for Manual Handling 1990

Aims to prevent the occurrence of injury and/or reduce the severity of injuries resulting form manual handling risks in workplaces. Requires workplaces to identify, assess and control risks arising from manual handling activities in workplaces.

Using a Risk Management Approach to Control Risks

This is the required approach under the OHS legislation

Step 1: Identify hazards
Step 2: Assess the risks
Step 3: Control the risks
Continuous: Evaluate and Improve

Step 1: Identify hazards

look at historical data

  • look at historical data
  • workers compensation statistics
  • record of injury
  • inspection reports
  • consultation with employees
  • workgroup survey results
  • observation of tasks - video or photos can help

Step 2: Assess the risks

Factors to assess; (The OHSIM checklist guides you through this assessment)

  • actions or movements
  • layout
  • posture and position
  • load location and distance moved
  • weights and forces
  • characteristics of load and equipment
  • work organisation
  • work environment
  • skill and experience
  • age
  • clothing
  • special needs
    (WorkCover NSW 1994)

Step 3: Control the risks

  • The Manual Handling Code requires employers to eliminate the risks if at all possible.
  • Other risk reduction methods are only to be used if elimination is not possible.
  • Training and administrative controls are to be used alone only where all other avenues have been unsuccessful in controlling the risk.

Types of Risk Control Options

Eliminate risk all together


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Task Redesign Mechanical Aids Training Administrative
  • modify object layout
  • modify workplace layout
  • tool design
  • change actions and forces
  • modify and document safe work process
  • extend reach
  • improve grip
  • raise height
  • support loads
  • move loads

EG. trolleys, scissor lifts,castors, hoists

  • induction training
  • work technique training
  • personal protective equipment
  • task rotation
  • rest breaks

Examples of Task Re-Design and Mechanical Aids

Task Re- Design  
Modify layout Eg. Adjustable tub base that raises as the load lightens

Modify work flow or process

Eg. Reach a hose from a tap to a bucket to limit bucket lifting and holding

Tool design

Eg. Look for designs that keep joints at neutral position when in use

Change actions and forces

Eg. Add a castor that can be flipped up out of the way to allow for wheeling action rather than carrying or pulling
Mechanical Aids
Eg. Mechanical hoist to take weight of loads in lifts

Eg. Pneumatic lift trolley eg. to ease load of lifting pcs off desk by raising trolley to desk height and using sideways transfer not lift and carry

EG. Items frequently access on wheeled platform to avoid awkward handling