Manual Handling: Is there such thing as a ‘No Lifting Policy?’

Manual Handling: Completely unavoidable in the ambulance service. How many groans have been heard in the cab of an ambulance when pulling up outside an address and seeing only the upstairs lights on? Chest pains, upstairs, 20 stone you say?……….

When it comes to moving and handling, there are some startling statistics to read:

Of all the reported incidents in the workplace, a third are related to manual handling. With 4 out of every 5 people suffering from back pain at some point in their lives, an estimated 115 million working days are lost to back injuries. In the NHS alone, the cost of manual handling incidents is over 480 million pounds annually! Specifically looking at the ambulance service, a whopping 70% of staff retire on ill health, with musculo-skeletal problems being the principle cause.

How many times whilst working on an ambulance have you turned up to an address simply to lift a patient off the floor because whoever is already on scene states that they have a ‘no lifting policy’? Does such a policy even exist?

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) do not prohibit individual types of manual handling or endorse ‘no lifting’ policies. However, manual handling should be limited to those times when it cannot be avoided and only where the risk has been assessed and minimised. Employers cannot simply pass on the risk to employees and a balanced approach to risk is advocated to ensure that workers are not required to perform tasks that put them at unreasonable risk.

So on this basis, anyone who works in care or in a profession working with patients who will undoubtedly have manual handling needs, it would suggest that whilst not to be encouraged in avoidable situations, when required, lifting a patient from the floor can be done so long as adequate risk assessments have been completed.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also goes on to state in section 2: that all employers must provide a safe working environment with safe systems to work with and provide safe equipment. The employer must also prepare a written safety policy and make sure all employees aware of a reporting system. But perhaps most pertinent when it comes to manual handling, the act also states that the employer must provide information, training, supervision and instruction in health and safety. So in simple terms, it is not just the ambulance service that will provide manual handling training. All agencies where by lifting a patient from the floor could be an expected part of the job must provide training to its staff to do this safely. They cannot simply say that they have a ‘no lifting policy’.

Section 7 of the act relates to employee’s responsibilities: Employees must take reasonable care for the health and safety of him/herself and others who are affected by his/her acts or omissions at work. An employee must comply with all safety procedures within their organisation. They must report all accidents, incidents and near misses and also report and hazards or defects identified in their workplace. Pertinently again, an employee must attend and take note of any training. Further reiterating that it is not just the ambulance service that must provide manual handling training to their employees.

When arriving on the ambulance and presented with a situation whereby a carer or other responsible adult at scene informs you that they are not allowed to lift due to their no lifting policy, ask to see a copy of it. Then ask them if they have completed any manual handling training. If they have, they have received training in how to lift safely because it cannot be avoided in their job, just like it cannot be avoided when working for the ambulance service. One of the stresses reported by ambulance staff is that they feel the pressure from being only one job away from their career being ended. In that, there is a genuine fear amongst staff that an injury could end their career at any time. Look after yourselves. The ambulance service are not the only people trained in manual handling!