a tradesperson carrying a large piece of wood on a construction site

Manual handling risks – a guide for tradespeople

Posted on 31st January 2022 by

Each occupation comes with its own set of risks and dangers, and tradespeople are usually exposed to more risks and potential accidents than someone in a desk job. Whether you’re a plasterer or a bricklayer, an electrician or a plumber, you’re typically required to lift and carry heavy items, climb up and down ladders, work in stress positions for long periods of time, and much more. This is why it’s so important that you’re aware of the manual handling risks associated with your trade.

Below, we take a look at some of the manual handling issues you might face as a tradesperson, particularly in the construction industry, as well as how to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries and why the correct training is so important to ensure your welfare.

a tradesperson carrying a large piece of wood on a construction site

Who is this guide aimed at?

Although this guide covers tradespeople in general, we’ve predominantly focused on:

  • plasterers
  • electricians
  • bricklayers
  • plumbers
  • joiners/carpenters
  • roofers

What injuries can be caused by manual handling?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), manual handling incidents account for around 30% of all workplace injuries. Manual handling is a term that’s used to cover a range of activities and movements, including lifting, carrying, pushing, lowering and more. When any of these things are overdone or performed incorrectly, they can result in injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include sprains and strains, repetitive strain injury (RSI), back injuries, hernias, pain in the arms, legs or joints and soft-tissue injuries to your wrists, arms, shoulders, legs or neck.


Below, you can find out which injuries you may be particularly vulnerable to in your specific occupation.

Risks for plasterers

Being a plasterer may not be deemed as risky as the work of an electrician or roofer, for instance, however, the occupation still comes with its own set of dangers.

The most common manual handling injury to occur is from picking up and carrying large and heavy boarding. Plasterboard can weigh a lot and installing it may require bending, stretching and lifting before securing it in place. The boards may even need to be carried through awkward spaces, such as staircases. Manual handling injuries can also occur from regularly lifting heavy bags of plaster.

The other commonly experienced injury by plasters is repetitive strain injury (RSI), usually caused by performing the same arm and wrist movements day after day. This is a common manual handling injury for all tradespeople.

Risks for plumbers

As with plasterers, plumbers are quite likely to complain of strain-related injuries from moving in the same ways all the time. They may especially suffer with wrist issues from frequently tightening and loosening nuts and bolts.

Plumbers are likely to suffer injuries caused by lifting and carrying large items, such as baths, shower trays, and toilets. When in boxes, these items can be particularly bulky and awkward to lift, and if lifted incorrectly injuries can occur, including back strains.

Once out of their boxes, these items need to be lifted into place and installed, which can mean leaning and bending in confined spaces. While sometimes this can’t be avoided, it’s important to use knee pads to avoid knee injuries and take regular breaks to stretch your legs.

Other non-handling related injuries include asthma and other respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), from regular contact with dust. Exposure to dust can be common to many other trades professions. Wearing a face mask can prevent you inhaling airborne dust and fibres.

Risks for carpenters/joiners

The HSE states that manual handling also causes around 30% of work-related injuries in the woodworking profession. While sprains and strains are relatively common injuries, cuts and scrapes are too. For carpenters, most injuries occur from stresses and strains over a sustained period of time instead of from a singular event.

Joiners are required to lift very large, heavy objects, such as wood panels, which can result in injuries from poor posture. One wooden sheet can be as wide as 240cm and as high as 120cm, with a thickness from 3mm to 35mm. When this is the case, the wood can weigh up to 25kg.

There’s also the risk of knee injuries, as being a carpenter can require you to kneel on hard floors to install items such as skirting boards and flooring. Again, wearing knee pads can make a difference and protect your knee joints.

Finally, overuse of certain tools and machinery can lead to injury from sustained vibrations. When subjected to such vibrations over a very long period of time, you can develop hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). Symptoms can include white patches on your hands, especially in cold weather, a tingling in your fingers, numbness in your fingers and even a gradual loss of sensation.

Risks for roofers

Roofers, like electricians, may have a higher risk of other injuries, particularly as they work at height and on their knees. They’re also expected to carry heavier loads than some other tradespeople and may need to transport hods of tiles up and down ladders and scaffolding.

For instance, a singular one-metre roof panel can weigh approximately 10kg, so a 24-metre one could weigh up to 240kg. It would be physically impossible for one man to carry this, and may not even be achievable by 10 men because of the awkward size of the panel. In this instance, a roofer would need to use machinery to lift the panel and place it in a suitable position to avoid severe injury.

How to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries

Manual handling injuries shouldn’t necessarily be a given, and there may be some things you can do to reduce the risk of an incident or injury from happening.

Make the loads smaller and lighter

It’s important that you don’t try to carry very heavy or awkward loads.

As a plasterer, for instance, you should purchase dry plaster in bags that weigh less than 25kg instead of buying abnormally large bags that are difficult to manoeuvre. You may also be able to have the bags lifted to the work area using a hoist, if you’re working on a busy construction site with such equipment available. If you’re working on a smaller site without such machinery available, it might be easier and quicker to load the bags onto a wheelbarrow instead of trying to carry the bags one at a time.

Increase the number of people lifting the objects

Of course, it’s not possible to always rely on machinery for heavy lifting, but you may be able to ask a couple of people to help you share the load. Extra hands can mean the work gets done faster and with fewer injuries.

Use equipment correctly

When you do use equipment, whether to help with heavy lifting or simply as an aspect of your job it’s important that you’re using it in the correct way and with the correct settings for you.

Carpenters regularly use workbenches, but when a bench is too low, you may find yourself bending over, resulting in back aches and pains. You should try to be aware of potential problems like this, and think about how you could resolve the situation. You could raise the height of the bench, or sit in a chair while you work.

Take regular breaks

Taking regular breaks can help tradespeople that need to make repetitive movements, including plasterers, tilers, plumbers and electricians. Such movements can cause RSI if you continue to work without stopping or changing positions.

As a tradesperson time is money, so if you don’t want to take a break for fear of falling behind in your work, you may be able to switch jobs for a bit. A plasterer, for instance, could do a job rotation between the ceiling and walls to prevent being in the same position for too long.

When you do take a break, you might wish to perform some basic exercises and stretches.

Why is manual handling training important?

Manual handling training is so important, as it can make you aware of some of the risks and injuries we’ve discussed above, especially as a tradesperson. A course could help you to understand how risk assessments can contribute to health and safety and the types of equipment you can use to stop you from putting too much strain on your body. You could learn the principles of manual handling and it could prevent a serious injury in the future.

What is an example of good manual handling practice?

Now that you understand some of the injuries that can come from incorrect manual handling in your trade, what are some good examples of manual handling?

Generally, good practice involves choosing to use a mechanical lifting aid instead of attempting to lift something yourself. This would show that you’ve thought the manoeuvre through and tried to protect yourself from risk.

Good practice also involves lifting things correctly, without putting too much strain on your back. You can find steps below that lay out exactly how to lift something safely and correctly.

  1. Remove any obvious obstructions from your route
  2. Plan a resting or stop point should you need to take a short break
  3. Adopt a stable position with your feet wide apart and one leg slightly forward for balance
  4. Keep the load close to your waist and the heaviest side next to your body
  5. Have a good hold on the item, using special gloves for extra grip where required
  6. Avoid twisting, bending or leaning while carrying the heavy item, as this could result in back injuries
  7. Put the heavy item down by bending your knees, and not bending your back
  8. If in doubt, call on extra people for assistance


For further information about manual handling training visit the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk

For a quote for your trades business insurance call 0333 321 1403 today.