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Managing hazardous manual tasks

The best way to manage hazardous manual task risks is to follow a systematic process and talk to your workers.

Find out more about managing hazardous manual tasks to keep your workers safe.

Manual tasks require people to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move, hold or restrain any person, animal or thing. Characteristics of hazardous manual tasks include:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration.

Not all manual tasks are hazardous. Employers should try to identify hazardous tasks in their workplace and ensure they're managed effectively.

Managing risks

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks to health and safety relating to a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) associated with hazardous manual tasks.

More information on the management of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace can be found in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Section 60).

To manage risk under the WHS Regulation 2011, a PCBU must:

  • identify hazards that could give rise to the risk
  • eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable
  • if not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, minimise the risk by implementing control
  • measures in accordance with the hierarchy of control
  • maintain the control measure so that it remains effective
  • review risk control measures (sections 34–38 WHS Regulation 2011).

An overview of the risk management process for manual tasks is provided in Appendix C of the Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.38 MB).

Consulting your workers

You must consult with workers who are affected, or likely to be affected, by the manual task. If your workers have a health and safety representative, you must involve that representative (sections 47-48 WHS Act 2011).

The first step in managing risks from carrying out manual tasks is to identify those tasks that have the potential to cause MSDs. Hazards that arise from manual tasks generally involve interaction between a worker and:

  • the work tasks and how they are performed
  • the tools, equipment and objects handled
  • the physical work environment.

Controlling risks

The WHS Regulation 2011 requires you to work through a series of steps to choose the control that most effectively eliminates, or minimises, the risk. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more measures.

Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. If this is not practicable, then minimise the risk as far as possible.

Risk controls measures
Hierarchy of control Examples of control measures
Level 1 Elimination
  • Automate the manual task (such as using remote controls)
  • Deliver goods directly to the point of use to eliminate multiple handling
Level 2 Substitution
  • Replace heavy items with those that are lighter, smaller and/or easier to handle
  • Replace hand tools with power tools to reduce the level of force required to do the task
  • Isolate vibrating machinery from the user, for example, by providing fully independent seating on mobile plant
  • Use mechanical lifting aids
  • Provide workstations that are height adjustable
Level 3 Administrative
  • Rotate workers between different tasks
  • Arrange workflows to avoid peak physical and mental demands towards the end of a shift
Personal protective equipment
  • Heat resistant gloves for handling hot items
  • Shock absorbent shoes for work on hard concrete floors

To implement the most effective controls you should:

  • start at the top of the hierarchy of control
  • allow workers to trial controls and give their feedback before decisions are made to make them permanent
  • develop work procedures to ensure that controls are understood and responsibilities are clear
  • communicate the reasons for the change to workers and others
  • ensure that any equipment used in the manual task is properly maintained
  • provide training to ensure workers can competently implement the risk controls. Training should include information about manual tasks risk management, specific manual tasks risk and how to control them, use of mechanical aids, tools, equipment and safe work procedures and how to report a problem or maintenance issue.

Training in lifting techniques must not be the sole or primary means to control the risk of MSDs.

Reviewing control measures

Control measures that have been implemented must be reviewed, and, if necessary, revised to make sure they work as planned and to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

You should review control measures:

  • when the control measure is no longer effective
  • before a change that is likely to give risk to a new or different risk
  • if a new hazard is identified
  • if consultation indicates a review is necessary
  • if a health and safety representative requests a review.

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