Manual handling of loads (MHL), manual material handling (MMH) or manutention (in Australia) involves the use of the human body to lift, lower, fill, empty, or carry loads. The load can be animate (a person or animal) or inanimate (an object). Most manufacturing or distribution systems require some manual handling tasks. Though decreasing lately, the rate of workers in the EU-25 that report carrying or moving heavy loads, is still high (34.5 %), reaching 38.0 % in the EU-10. When performed incorrectly or excessively, these tasks may expose workers to physical risk factors, fatigue, and injury. A variety of MMH techniques and tools exist to alleviate these potential problems.
Any job that involves heavy labor or manual material handling may include a high risk for injury on the job. Manual material handling entails lifting, but also usually includes climbing, pushing, pulling, and pivoting, all of which pose the risk of injury to the back. MMH work contributes to a large percentage of the over half a million cases of musculoskeletal disorders reported annually in the United States. Musculoskeletal disorders often involve strains and sprains to the lower back, shoulders, and upper limbs. Potentially injurious tasks may involve bending and twisting, repetitive motions, carrying or lifting heavy loads, and maintaining fixed positions for a long time. MMH under these conditions can lead to damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
Ergonomic intervention in manual handling can decrease injuries and increase worker productivity.
Lifting containers can strain the lumbar vertebrae when done improperly. Ergonomic lifting techniques involve keeping loads close to the body and near the person's center of gravity, using diagonal foot positions, and moving loads at waist height rather than directly from the floor.
When climbing with a load, safe material handling includes maintaining contact with the ladder or stairs at three points (two hands and a foot or both feet and a hand). Bulky loads would require a second person or a mechanical device to assist.
Manual material handling may require pushing or pulling. Pushing is generally easier on the back than pulling. It is important to use both the arms and legs to provide the leverage to start the push.
When moving containers, handlers are safer when pivoting their shoulders, hips and feet with the load in front at all times rather than twisting their back. The lower back is not designed to torque or for repetitive twisting.