Your deliveries frequently arrive on pallets, and the drivers simply drop them on the pavement and expect staff to unpack and carry everything into the building. Is this acceptable and if so is there a legal limit to observe?

In this example, individual boxes on the pallet weigh up to 20kg but there could typically be 40 items in the load. The weight of each item is borderline for some to cope with as a one-off, let alone when the lifting and carrying must be undertaken repeatedly and swiftly. The previous driver probably went beyond his remit by using a sack truck to ferry the goods into the building. As this is no longer happening you have been left with a problem to resolve.

Can you insist on a better service?

Changes in the logistics industry are making this problem more commonplace and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to avoid it. Lorries take mixed loads with pallets for multi-drop delivery, whereas smaller orders would previously have been sent in a box van. Palletised goods are highly convenient if you’re equipped for it, e.g. with a fork lift truck or powered pallet truck, but otherwise they’re far from ideal.

An additional problem is that logistics companies have become more risk averse. They don’t want their drivers putting themselves at risk of injury carrying out tasks which are not part of their job.

Tip. If you’re receiving palletised loads and it doesn’t suit you, consider whether making smaller orders would still be economical and make the delivery more manageable.

Is it a safe load?

You should not be allowing staff to carry out this type of activity unless you have completed a manual handling risk assessment. This involves two parts: (1) a preliminary assessment; and (2) a detailed assessment.

Tip. When determining the risk control measures to include in your written assessment, the first priority is to avoid manual handling activities which carry a risk of injury. In this case that might mean finding a way to reduce the size of individual packages or obtaining a powered pallet truck and changing the layout of the workplace so that the delivery can simply be brought in without manual work. Secondary options are providing trolleys, safety footwear, checking that staff are fit to handle the work and providing manual handling training.

Maximum weight limit

The HSE have provided a Manual Handling at Work guidance (INDG143rev3) along with a manual handling assessment template to help employers. They provide the following diagram (below) showing guideline figures to assist those carrying out manual handling risk assessments. Use this to work out which activities are low risk. It illustrates different “safe” load limits when lifting from different positions, e.g. ground, overhead, waist height etc. For example, a safe load for an average healthy female when lifting from the ground level is just 7kg.

 Tip. If your lifting activity exceeds the HSE’s guidelines weight chart, undertake a manual handling risk assessment.

This type of activity could easily cause injury so should be avoided. Consider your options, ideally by starting to use a pallet truck, asking suppliers to use smaller package sizes etc. To determine the way forward undertake a manual handling risk assessment. There are no fixed legal limits to observe.