Can I refuse to lift heavy objects at work?
If you work in a job that requires frequent heavy lifting, it’s important that you know your rights in regards to how much weight you’re legally allowed to lift. Many employers will abide by the rules and not overstep the mark when it comes to the demands they make of their employees. However, that’s not to say they all will, so you should be aware of your limits, both physically and from a legal standpoint.
What is the legal lifting weight at work?
No employer should put any member of staff in danger of physical injury, but when it comes to lifting heavy objects, there isn’t an officially set weight that’s recognised as the legal limit. This is mostly due to the fact that the same weight limit would not typically apply to everyone, as height, weight, age, physical condition and other variables relating to the person doing the heavy lifting would be a factor.
What is the maximum weight you can lift at work?
The Health and Safety Executive regulates how businesses treat their staff, ensuring that every employee is safe in their workplace. In place of any form of legal restriction over how much a worker can lift, this body has created a thorough set of guidelines that show how much weight a male or female worker is likely to be able to carry.
This set of guidelines indicates that:
- The average male can carry 10 kilograms at mid lower leg height, 20 kilograms at knee height, 25 kilograms at waist height, 20 kilograms at chest height and 10 kilograms at shoulder height, with all of these figures halved when carrying items with arms stretched out.
- The average female can carry 7 kilograms at mid lower leg height, 13 kilograms at knee height, 16 kilograms at waist height, 13 kilograms at chest height and 7 kilograms at shoulder height, with all of these figures halved when carrying items with arms stretched out.
As the maximum lifting weight is likely to be different for everyone, you can’t always determine what your personal limit would be. However, it’s often compared to the baggage allowance at airports, which is typically around 23 kilograms. Most people will find 20-25 kilograms as being their limit, so if it exceeds this weight, it may be dangerous for you to carry the item without causing injury to yourself.
Can you refuse to lift heavy objects at work?
If you haven’t been given appropriate training or don’t feel safe lifting an object, you should let your employer know straight away, referring to a relevant worker’s union if necessary. In fact, an injury caused by lifting following insufficient training could be viewed as grounds for making a compensation claim for an accident at work.
Assuming your employer is being reasonable, you should be able to refuse to lift a specific object if you do have a valid reason for it. However, if you’re given all the support and training necessary for carrying out the task at hand, refusing to lift the items could be detrimental to your job, especially if lifting heavy items is listed as one of the duties expected of you.
How to lift properly at work
When lifting heavy items, there are steps you can take to help you steer clear of avoidable injuries. These include:
Considering how best to lift the item –
Although general lifting techniques may be applicable to any type of object regardless of its shape and size, you should approach lifting an item based on its specifications. Depending on the item, you could consider using specialist equipment to move it, making sure you’ve cleared the path you will be moving it through as it will be harder to do this during transportation.
Maintaining a suitable lifting position –
Damaging your body during the lifting of heavy items is partly caused by how you hold your posture. Protecting your back is important, as that’s often the part of the body that is injured when incorrectly lifting items. To protect your back, don’t bend or twist it during the lifting process. Instead, remain in an upright position and bend your knees until you reach the object. Then, when you have a firm grasp on the object, reverse this movement as you pick it up. Lift with your legs, not your back.
When you’re holding the object, keep it close to your waist and attempt to balance the heaviest part as close to your body as possible. For balance, keep your feet apart from each other and prepare to change the positioning of your feet to maintain sufficient balance.
Recognising when an object is too heavy –
All of these tips should improve how you lift heavy objects and prevent injury, but you need to understand the crucial difference between what you can physically lift and what you can safely lift. You may be able to pick up an object but if you can’t maintain that weight for long or move it to the desired location, it won’t be safe to lift.