The Risk Assessment Process

A risk assessment is a structured way of looking at manual handling operations. It helps in identifying which parts of the operations have the potential to cause harm, and therefore which areas should be targeted when applying practical solutions to reduce the risks.

Hazard is defined as: Anything with the potential to cause harm e.g. a faulty electrical item, a heavy unstable load, an electrical appliance with a lead running across the room.

Harm is defined as: Damage, injury, hurt or impairment

Risk is defined as: The chance that harm will occur.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) also state that an ergonomic approach must be used when looking at manual handling problems. This approach looks at manual handling as a whole and takes into account a range of relevant factors including the nature of the:-





Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (updated 1998) – see Legislation pages for further information.

Risk = Likelihood of harm occurring x the severity of the harm should it occur

Initial Risk Rating Index / Risk Matrix

This risk assessment rating is based on the All Wales NHS / Local Government Manual Handing Training Passport and Information Scheme. The risk associated with each task is assessed against the likelihood of an incident occurring and should it happen, the severity of the consequences:

Likelihood: Taking into account the controls in place and their adequacy, how likely is it that such an incident could occur? Apply a score according to the following scale:

Risk = Likelihood of harm occurring x the severity of the harm should it occur

Level Descriptor Description
5 Almost certain Likely to occur on many occasions, a persistent issue
4 Likely Will probably occur but it is not persistent issue
3 Possible May occur occasionally
2 Unlikely Do not expect it to happen but it is possible
1 Rare Can not believe that this will ever happen

Severity: Taking into account the controls in place and their adequacy, how severe would the consequences be of such an incident? Apply a score according to the following scale.

Level Descriptor Actual or Potential Impact on Individual(s) Actual or Potential Impact on Authority
5 Catastrophic DEATH National adverse publicity

HSE Investigation

Litigation expected/certain

4 Major PERMANENT INJURY: e.g. RIDDOR reportable injury/ill health retirement /redeployment RIDDOR reportable

Long term sickness

Litigation expected/certain


e.g. injury that takes up to 1 year to resolve or requires Occupational Health involvement/rehabilitation

RIDDOR reportable/MDA reportable

Long term sickness

Litigation possible but not certain

High potential for complaint

2 Minor SHORT TERM INJURY/DAMAGE e.g. injury that has been resolved within one month Minimal risk to Authority

Short term sickness

Litigation unlikely

Complaint possible

1 Insignificant NO INJURY OR ADVERSE OUTCOME No risk at all to Authority

Unlikely to cause complaint

Litigation risk remote

Risk score/action to be taken = likelihood x severity:











1Rare 1 2 3 4 5 No Immediate Action
2 Unlikely 2 4 6 8 10 Action within 12 months
3 Possible 3 6 9 12 15
4 Likely 4 8 12 16 20 Urgent Action
5Almost certain 5 10 15 20 25

Assessment of risk score:

Low 1-5 (L) Medium             6-11(M) High 12-25 (H)

Numerical Guidelines

Numerical guidance (below) given in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (MHOR) 1998, indicates the weight at which lifting is likely to be considered injurious and at which a risk assessment needs to be carried out. The MHOR state “application of the guidelines will provide a reasonable level of protection to around 95% of working men and women. However, they are not safe weight limits for lifting. There is no threshold below which manual handling operations may be regarded as ‘safe’. Even operations that lie within the guideline figures should be avoided or made less demanding wherever it is reasonably practicable to do so. On the other hand, the figures can be exceeded where a more detailed assessment has shown that it is appropriate to do so”.

Each box in the diagram contains a guideline weight for lifting and lowering in that zone. The diagram shows the horizontal positions of the hands as they move the load. You can see that the guideline weights are reduced if the handling is done with the arms extended or are at high or low levels, as that is where injuries are most likely. When handling a load, it is necessary to decide on which box the handler’s hands pass through when moving the load. Then assess the weight being handled. If it is less than the figure given in the box, then the operation is within the guidelines. If more then there is a forseeable risk of injury and further risk assessment needs to be carried out.

If the handler’s hands enter more than one box during the operation then the smallest weight figure applies.

These guideline figures assume:
The load is easy to grasp with both hands
The operation takes place in reasonable work conditions and
The handler is in a stable body position

Frequent Lifting and Lowering

The above guidelines are for lifting and lowering in fairly infrequent occasions i.e. up to 30 operations per hour or one lift every 2 minutes. The guideline figures will have to be reduced if the operation is reduced more often. Approximate guidance is given:

Repeated Operations Reduce Figures by
Once or twice per minute. 30%
Five to eight times per minute 50%
More than twelve times per minute 80%


The combination of twisting the spine when lifting and stooping is particularly stressful to the back and a detailed risk assessment should really be undertaken. If however the task is relatively infrequent (up to 30 operations per hour or one lift every two minutes and there are no other postural difficulties the following guidance is given:

If handler twists through Reduce Figures by
45 degrees 30%
90 degrees 50%

Pushing and Pulling

For pushing and pulling tasks (whether the load is slid, rolled, or on wheels) the guideline figures assumes that the force is applied with the hands between knuckle and shoulder height. It is also assumed that the distance is not further than about 20 metres. If this is not the case then a more detailed risk assessment is indicated:

Guidelines for stopping and starting a load
Men 20 KG (200newtons)
Women 15 KG (150newtons)
Guidelines for keeping a load in motion
Men 10 KG (100newtons)
Women 7 KG (70newtons)

Guidelines for Handling while seated

The basic guidelines for handling whilst seated are:

Men Women

The Risk Assessment Format

The Approved Code of Practice (Schedule 1 to the Regulations), which accompanies the Manual Handling Regulations states that a risk assessment should involve identifying the hazards present in any undertaking and then evaluate the risks involved. A format is given:

Reference: Manual Handling Operation Regulations 1992(updated)

“Factors to which the employer must have regarded and questions he must consider when making an assessment of manual handling operations”:

Handling of Objects

Regulations 4(1)(b)(i)

Column 1


Column 1



The Tasks

Do they involve:  

– holding or manipulating loads at a distance from the trunk?

– unsatisfactory bodily movement or posture especially:

– twisting the trunk?

– stooping?

– reaching upwards?

– excessive movement of loads, especially:

– excessive lifting or lowering distances?

– excessive pushing or pulling of loads?

– risk of sudden movement of loads?

– frequent or prolonged physical effort?

– insufficient rest or recovery periods?

– a rate of work imposed by a process?



The Loads

Are they:  

–     heavy?

–     bulky or unwieldy?

–     difficult to grasp?

–     unstable, or with contents likely to shift?

–     sharp, hot or otherwise potentially damaging?



The working environment

Are there:  

–     space constraints preventing good posture?

–     uneven, slippery or unstable floors?

–     variations in level of floors or work surfaces?

–     extremes of temperature or humidity?

–     conditions causing ventilation problems or gusts of wind?

–     poor lighting conditions?



Individual capability

Does the job?  

–     require unusual strength, height etc.?

–     create a hazard to those who might reasonably be considered to be pregnant or to have a health problem?

–     require special information or training for its safe performance?



Other factors

Is movement or posture hindered by personal protective equipment or by clothing?

The schedule 1 questions can be interpreted to apply to the handling of people. The same format is used i.e. when conducting a manual handling assessment the regulations specify that the factors that you should take into account should include the TASK, the LOAD, the PERSON and the ENVIRONMENT in which the handling operation is carried out. You should remember that the assessment is not an end in itself; it is a structured way of analysing risks and pointing you to practical solutions. You can best achieve an analysis of these risks by asking yourself a series of questions such as those listed below:

Handling of People

Column 1


Column 1


1 The Tasks Is the move / transfer essential?

Can the move / transfer be avoided?

How frequently is the task undertaken?

Am I able to achieve a proper hold on the client / patient?

Does the task involve twisting?

Does the task involve excessive distances when lifting or lowering?

Does the task involve excessive carrying distances?

Does the task involve excessive pushing and pulling?

Is there risk of a sudden movement of the client?

Does the task involve frequent or prolonged physical effort?

Does the task involve insufficient rest or recovery periods?

Does the task involve poor posture?

Do I know where I am moving the service user to?


2 The Loads What is the weight of the service user?

What is the shape of the service user?

Can the service user help with the lift or transfer?

Is the service user able to understand what is about to happen?

Is the service user co-operative?

What is the service user’s diagnosis?

How does the service user feel today?

Can the service user tell me anything that will make the lift safer?

What is the service user wearing?

Can I move the service user to a position from which the transfer, technique or manoeuvre will be safer?

Does the client have any special handling needs?

3 The working environment Is there enough space for the task to be carried out safely?

Are there any potential obstructions?

Is the destination secure e.g. brakes on the wheelchair?

Is there any appropriate equipment available?

Is the floor surface stable and even?

Are there variations in heights of working surfaces?

Is there good working conditions e.g. sufficient light?


4 Individual capability Am I fit enough for the task?

Have I received appropriate training?

Am competent to undertake this technique?

Do I know how to fit and use the equipment?

Am I aware of the care plan / risk assessment that has been completed?

Do I know my role within the team?

Is my clothing / footwear suitable?

Am I pregnant or do I have a health problem?


5 Other factors Is movement of the service user or posture hindered by other factors such as: personal protective equipment, clothing and invasive devices e.g. catheter or gastrostomy tubes?