In 2018, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that off-the-shelf manual handling training should become ‘a thing of the past’.

This was a topic we felt strongly about, because we could not agree more on the vital importance of tailoring manual handling training to suit the specific risks identified by the risk assessment, rather than adopting a one-programme-fits-all approach. Manual handling risks can vary enormously and will change based on who is carrying out the handling task; so it stands to reason that anything ‘off-the-shelf’ is never going to be effective.

Since the announcement however, it has come to our attention that there has been fairly widespread misunderstanding of what the HSE actually meant by its statement, with some employers taking it to mean that manual handling training is no longer necessary at all. This is extremely worrying, as this misinterpreted view could not be further from the truth. In fact, any employer which has opted to leave manual handling training off the agenda altogether could find itself in very hot water indeed should there be an investigation by its insurer or the HSE.

So, what did the HSE actually mean by its statement?

There are two main elements to the advice issued by the HSE:

Hierarchy of control

The hierarchy of control definition of training presents a series of options in decreasing order of preference. In terms of manual handling, the training itself – the actual process of teaching someone how to physically handle something safely – appears low down the order. This can be interpreted as the HSE believing that relying on an individual to consistently use the good handling technique they have been taught is a poor control measure. This is something we agree with.

The HSE emphasises that, where possible, solutions that appear higher up the hierarchy should be prioritised. These would be elimination, automation and the use of handling aids. Eliminating the need to handle an object manually should come first, as it is the most effective control measure possible. Automating handling tasks so there is no longer a need for manual involvement comes next, and then incorporating the use of aids to assist the manual handler should fall after that.

Again, we agree and all of these elements would automatically form part of our manual handling training programmes. The Guidance on the Regulations (L23) does in fact state that manual handling training courses should include the following:

  • Manual handling risk factors and how injuries can occur
  • How to carry out safe manual handling, including good handling technique
  • Appropriate systems of work for the individual’s tasks and environment
  • Use of mechanical aids
  • Practical work to allow the trainer to identify and put right anything the trainee is not doing safely

Tailored training

The HSE announcement was released alongside fresh musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) advice designed to help employers work out the most appropriate type of help needed to deal with the particular MSD risks faced within their specific working environments.

Health and work portfolio manager at the HSE, Geoff Cox, said: "Our research shows that simplistic training involving bending your knees to lift a cardboard box is just a waste of time and money, it just doesn’t make any difference.

"If you do need staff training, and there are many residual risks where this is the case, then this needs to be customised and professionally delivered. Any such training should be based on observations of current working practices, and should be informed by the views and experience of the workforce."

In other words, if a need for physical training is identified, then that training must be tailored and, as we said earlier, not based on a one-programme-fits-all approach.

In Summary

Any manual handling training that does not incorporate all of the elements as outlined in L23; training that simply focuses on the physical side of things, in other words, how to bend knees and lift a box; and training that is not bespoke to specific needs is the type of training that the HSE is saying should become a thing of the past.

Should you wish to learn more about the range of tailored manual handling training courses offered by Alistair Bromhead Ltd; training that is delivered in line with all the HSE guidance, then you are welcome to call us on 0800 710 1099 or email