Lifting and handling heavy objects at work

School staff (unless contracted and trained to do so) should not become involved in lifting, handling and carrying heavy loads. Injuries to NEU members resulting from these activities, such as back injuries, injuries due to slips and falls, or injuries due to dropping heavy objects onto the body, are extremely common.

Injuries resulting from lifting and handling objects can result in pain, time off work and sometimes permanent disablement. These are very good reasons for teachers and school staff to recognise their right to decline to be involved in inappropriate lifting and handling, whether this involves the carrying of large quantities of books without assistance between classrooms on a daily basis or the less frequent carrying of heavy loads such as boxes of equipment or furniture on occasions such as classroom moves at the end of term.

Lifting and carrying work should be the responsibility of premises staff, for whom it is likely to be a contractual duty, or of contracted staff such as removal company staff. The employer is required to carry out a risk assessment for premises staff who are entitled to be given the appropriate training, assistance and equipment to help them in this work. Teachers and other employees should not become involved in such work. Reluctance by heads or governors to employ such staff should not lead teachers and other employees to become involved in such work. Pupils should not be asked to carry heavy loads under any circumstances.

On the question of whether pupils should be allowed to assist in assembling or putting away a trampoline, we would refer to advice published by the Association for Physical Education – Safe Practice in Physical Education and Sports 2012 – which states that positioning, assembling and folding a trampoline should always be undertaken by at least two trained staff. As to the role of students, the guidance goes on to say that older students who are sufficiently responsible, who have the physical strength and who have been trained, may help fold or unfold the trampoline. The NEU view is that only older secondary students should assist in this way and they must be closely supervised. If younger children, lacking the necessary strength, are left to carry out the task without direct staff involvement, this could lead to accidents.

In circumstances where it might be impractical to involve premises staff, such as in carrying books between classrooms at the end of each lesson, employers should provide means of assistance, such as trolleys, to staff. Where storage arrangements in offices or storerooms require lifting and handling of loads stored on shelves, employers should provide stepladders or kick-stools to avoid the risk of injury caused by stretching or standing on chairs or tables. Where employers refuse to provide such assistance, staff should not become involved in such lifting, carrying and handling.

Lifting and handling pupils

The risks of injury from lifting and handling pupils are greatest with regard to pupils with special educational needs (SEN) or emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). Lifting and handling pupils is an unavoidable part of working in special education and staff working with such pupils are at particular risk since the ‘load’ involved is human and can move. Common situations involving pupils which are potentially hazardous include lifting into and out of vehicles; lifting wheelchairs up steps; toileting, washing, bathing and changing; hydrotherapy; and emergency evacuation (including drills).

The NEU will protect members by ensuring that all employers meet their responsibilities for risk assessment, assistance and training with regard to lifting and handling pupils.

NEU members are therefore entitled to expect that:

  • the employer carries out risk assessments for all staff, including support staff, involved in lifting and handling pupils.
  • the assessments take into account the nature of the situation, the size and weights of pupils involved, the degree to which they may either assist in a lift or actively resist lifting, and the individual capability of the member of staff.
  • appropriate support staffing is provided in order that assistance is available whenever a teacher requires such help and further assistance is provided in the form of appropriate mechanical equipment such as hoists etc.
  • training in lifting and handling techniques and in using mechanical aids is provided to all teachers and support staff.
  • all cases of injury, in particular back injury, are recorded and investigated by the  employer and suitable assistance is offered to facilitate the return to work of injured members of staff.

Where any employer fails to meet its responsibilities in the above ways, then it may be necessary for NEU members to decline to become involved in lifting and handling pupils until the employer does so.

The NEU advises members that, as with heavy objects, they should not undertake lifting and handling of pupils if they believe that they are likely to be injured by doing so.

Lifting and handling by pregnant women

The MHSW Regulations require employers to carry out a specific risk assessment with regard to the risks facing new and expectant mothers at work, and to take steps to eliminate those risks. Employers must therefore consider the risks facing pregnant employees at work. This should include, in particular, lifting and bending since back strain is top of the risk league for pregnant women as their backs are vulnerable to injury during pregnancy. Employers should also consider the fact that manual lifting by expectant mothers may well endanger the health of their child as well as their own health.

New or expectant mothers include pregnant women, mothers who are breastfeeding, mothers who have given birth in the past six months and women who have miscarried after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The risks to health and safety of the worker and unborn child must be assessed in accordance with her duties.

If the risks cannot be eliminated, the woman should be offered suitable alternative working arrangements. If none is available, she should be suspended on her normal remuneration for as long as necessary. The employer must keep the risk assessment under review as the potential risks may vary at different stages of pregnancy.

Lifting and handling by people with disabilities

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace or employment arrangements so that a disabled person is not at any substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. This might include arranging to limit the number, size or weight of loads handled by someone with a disability that limits their manual handling capacity, or providing suitable handling aids.

Even where a person’s physical condition is one not classified as a disability, or where an employer fails to recognise or accept their disability, the employer is nevertheless required to pay regard to individual capability when undertaking manual handling risk assessments (as noted earlier). This means that staff who have short-term injuries or longer-term conditions or illnesses which could be exacerbated by lifting and carrying are therefore entitled to any necessary additional assistance or support from the employer.

For more information on lifting and handling in schools, please download the full ‘Lifting and handling’ guidance.

Accidents and injuries
Lifting and handling

Advice on the health and safety issues relating to lifting and handling that school staff face while at work.