How much weight can I lift at work?

Sprains and strains and - known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – are responsible for more than half of workers’ compensation claims in Queensland.

And the biggest cause of musculoskeletal disorders?  Heavy lifting.

So -

  • Is it legal to lift heavy objects at work?
  • How do you know how much weight you should lift at work?
  • Is it the same for men and women?

The answer to all of the above is that there is no straightforward answer!

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Yes, heavy objects can legally be lifted in the workplace.  The question around what’s legal and what’s not is more to do with making sure you have a safe workplace.

It’s a risk-balancing exercise, and what is clear is that –

  • There is no maximum weight for lifting.
  • Workers cannot be forced to lift objects.
  • The level of risk has to be assessed and managed on a case-by-case basis.

And there is no safe way to lift – it will always involve risk.

Any weight has the capacity to pose a risk, depending on a variety of factors – some, as subtle as things like a person’s posture, or the frequency / duration of a seemingly harmless task.

Workers and workplaces should work together to try and eliminate the risks that are inherent in lifting objects.

If removing risk altogether is not possible, then workplaces must manage those risks.

The Queensland government provides this Manual tasks risk management worksheet as a tool to assess and address any manual tasks in your workplace that may be hazardous.

Additionally, under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld) (the Regulation), a person conducting a business or undertaking is required to go through a series of steps to remove or reduce risk.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland also has a Code of Practice for Hazardous manual tasks.

The Regulation requires workplaces to consider all matters that could contribute to MSDs, including:

The Regulation requires workplaces to consider all matters that could contribute to MSDs, including:

  • Posture / movement relating to the task.
  • Duration and frequency of the task.
  • Workplace conditions – design, layout, environment, system of work.
  • The nature and number of persons, animals or things involved.

From there, a workplace should implement the following systematic process:

  • Identifying hazardous manual tasks.
  • Assessing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Implementing risk control.
  • Reviewing effectiveness of those control measures.

Lifting at Work Example

A warehouse owner wants to move 100 x 40kg cement bags to another area some 15 metres away.  He has one female and one male staff member who can assist him; however, after assessing the risk involved in asking both staff to carry out this manual task, the owner realises that hiring equipment to move the stock will not only remove risk of injury but also allow the owner time to implement further risk control measures, such as ordering 20kg bags in future or arranging for more permanent storage that will remove the need to move the stock until it is required.

Remember, as well that under the Work Health and Safety Act (Qld), employers are obligated to ensure workers’ health and safety, and workers must comply with instructions given to that end.

There are, additionally, standards applicable to manual tasks – for example, addressing risk in relation to specific activities such as moving or lifting weighted bags.

Next steps - get advice now

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Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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