OSH Answers Fact Sheets
Easy-to-read, question-and-answer fact sheets covering a wide range of workplace health and safety topics, from hazards to diseases to ergonomics to workplace promotion. MORE ABOUT >
What is manual materials handling?
Manual materials handling (MMH) means moving or handling things by lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, holding, or restraining. MMH is also the most common cause of occupational fatigue, low back pain and lower back injuries.
What makes manual materials handling hazardous?
MMH is always hazardous but the level of hazard depends on what you are handling, what the task is, and what the conditions are at the workplace or work site.
For example, the material or load that you are handling may be:
- Too heavy for the task that you are doing.
- Located too high or low for a safe lift.
- Too big or may have a shape that makes it hard to handle.
- Wet, slippery, or have sharp edges that makes it hard to grasp.
- Unstable or can shift its centre of gravity because it contains material that can flow (e.g., water, sand, a partially filled drum, or concrete in a wheelbarrow).
- Too big to let you see where you are putting your feet.
The task can make MMH hazardous if a worker:
- Uses poor lifting techniques (lifting too fast, too often or too long; lifting with back bent or while twisting or reaching too far; lifting while sitting or kneeling, etc.).
- Has to move material over long distances.
- Does not take appropriate rest breaks; insufficient recovery time.
- Has a combination of handling tasks (e.g. lifting, carrying and lowering).
- Wears clothing that restricts movement or reduces grip strength.
The conditions where you are working can also contribute to hazards of MMH and result in injuries, for example:
- Walking surfaces that are uneven, sloping, wet, icy, slippery, unsteady, etc.
- Differences in floor levels or walking surfaces.
- Poor housekeeping that causes slip, trip and fall hazards.
- Inadequate lighting.
- Cold or very hot and humid working conditions.
- Strong wind or gusty conditions.
- Working at high pace.
- Movement is restricted because of clothing or personal protective equipment.
- Space is small or posture is constrained or both.
Does CCOHS have other information on manual materials handling?
OSH Answers has information on various topics related to manual materials handling such as:
- MMH and health hazards/injuries.
- Back injury prevention.
- Back belts.
- Pushing & Pulling - General.
- Pushing & Pulling - Handcarts.
- Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation.
- Handholds on load and gripping aids (I and II).
- General safe lifting and MMH practices.
- safe MMH practices for specific kinds of loads (compact loads, small bags, large sacks, drums, barrels, cylinders, sheet materials (e.g., metal, glass)).
- Layouts for working and storing materials.
- Materials flow.
- Mechanical aids for handling and transporting materials (I, II, Levers).
Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.