Airside Safety | Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique

Airside Safety | Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique

pushing and pulling guidelines

Safe Manual handling and lifting in airside at airport environment involve any activity that requires the use of force exerted by a person to lift, lower, push, pull, carry or otherwise move or hold an object. Airlines and ground handling companies have tasks that involve manual handling and lifting, whether it's (un)loading or carrying baggage and cargo boxes or moving larger(s) pieces of equipment in a workshop or aircraft.


Manual handling and lifting activities are an essential part of many workflows in airports, but they can also be extremely dangerous if they are not managed correctly by persons involved in the process.

 In this article, I will explain to you the risk and contributing factors associated with Manual handling and lifting and maximum handling loads and how you can practice a safe technique for manual handling and lifting.


What is Manual Handling and Lifting?

Manual Handling and Lifting means using your body to exert force to handle, support or restrain any object, including people or animals. It is not just lifting or carrying heavy objects. It includes lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, lowering, throwing, carrying, packing, assembling, cleaning, sorting, and using tools.


The term is not limited to handling heavy objects – pushing a trolley or using a keyboard are all examples of manual handling. [Ref. Manual Handling - University of Newcastle]


 Manual Handling and Lifting – Risk Factors

Airlines and ground handling companies need to make sure it carries out a thorough risk assessment before any such activity can take place. In doing so, managers can weigh up all the potential hazards and key risk factors to take steps to mitigating them, ensuring that the whole process can proceed smoothly and safely.

  The following are key risk factors of Manual Handling and Lifting:

     1)      Size and Shape of the object or load

2)      Sudden or unexpected jarring movements

3)      Maintaining the same posture for long periods

4)      Personal Factors, such as:

-  Age

-  Physical Capabilities reduced physical fitness

-  Size

-  Working shift work

5)       Awkward Movements, such as:

-   Twisting

-  Bending

-  Over-reaching 

Manual Handling and Lifting – Contributing Factors

     1)      How long and Often the task is performed

2)      How the work is organized

3)      Design and layout of work environment

4)      Training and familiarity with the task

Correct ‘Starting’ Position- Correct Posture

It is important to know the correct ‘starting’ position for your back. Your back is naturally shaped like an S curve. If your back is in an S curve you should notice that:

-  Your major weight-bearing joints- neck, shoulders, lumbar spine, hips,

knees and ankles are all in alignment.

-  When standing against a wall your head, upper back, and buttocks should

all touch the wall. At both your neck level and your lower back level you

should be able to fit your hand in between your body and the wall.


 Maximum Handling Loads

 The figure shown down provides a guide to the reduction in capability when lifting loads to different heights and distances from the body (In Spain). It assumes a 25kg load to be within-person capability when a simple straight lift to waist height is involved. Maximum weight guidelines recommend lower weights for women.


Maximum weight guidelines recommend lower weights for women

Many airlines have introduced maximum weight limits for checked passenger baggage. The limits vary from airline to airline, and some carriers have different weight limits depending on the class of travel. Current limits include 20 kilograms (44 pounds), 23 kilograms (51 pounds), and 32 kilograms (70 pounds). Also, some airlines will accept heavier bags if the passenger pays an excess baggage charge.


In IATA Airport Handling Manual [AHM 630-4.5], the maximum weight of any single piece of checked baggage shall be not more than 32kg, without prior arrangement. Heavy tags/labels should be placed on all pieces of baggage/cargo and mail weighing 23kg or more with the actual weight of the piece being shown on the heavy tag/label.


Some items of baggage and air cargo may exceed these limits, and consideration should be given to the use of mechanical lifting devices. If this is not possible, a two-person lift is essential.


Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique

For tasks where manual handling can’t be eliminated, it is important that you follow these steps to ensure you are lifting in the safest possible way.

 1. Size up the Load

a)      Check if the weight of the object is listed on it

b)      If not, push, pull, gently kick or rock the object to be moved before you attempt to move it –get a feel for its weight, size and, shape

c)      Check whether the weight is evenly distributed

d)      Recognize what your limits are and stick to these limits

 2. Ensure the area is clear

a)      Work out where the load is going

b)      Ensure that your intended pathway is clear and free of obstacles

c)      Make sure that your vision will not be blocked when moving large objects

 3. Position your feet correctly

a)      Place your feet a comfortable distance apart (shoulder width). A broader base of support increases stability. With a narrow base of support with your feet too close together, you are more likely to lose your balance.

b)      Point your feet in the direction that you intend to travel        

c)      Always turn with your feet, not your hips or shoulders.

Airside Safety | Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique

4. Get as close to the load as possible

a)      Walk over to the load – don’t stand still and reach for it


5. Maintain the normal curves in your spine

You need to try and work in your power zone – above your knees and below the shoulders

a)      Keep the back straight and the head looking up

b)      Half bend the knees and use your leg muscles

c)      Bend forward at the waist

d)      Stick your bottom out

e)      Bend your back as little as possible

f)       Keep your head looking up, not down

g)      Put the weight down through your heels, not the toes


Airside Safety | Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique

6. Use the correct grip

a)      Have a firm grip by using the palms and the base of the fingers.

b)      Don’t just use your fingertips as this can cause strain on the hands, wrists, and forearms.

7. Lift Smoothly

a)      Grip the load firmly and hold it close to your body.

b)      Keep the heaviest side closest to your body

c)      ‘Brace’ (tighten) your stomach muscles. Remember to breathe out when you lift. However, remember that bracing the stomach muscles does not mean ‘holding your breath’. 

8. Thrust with the legs

Use the leg muscles to move the load (quadriceps and gluteal muscles). They are much bigger and stronger than the back muscles.

 9. Complete the movement smoothly and without jerkiness


 Pushing and pulling

When pushing or pulling the load you should follow this tips:

a)      You should always try to push rather than pull – you can exert twice as much power when you push.

b)      Assume a lunge position with one foot in front of the other, knees bent, to use your leg muscles rather than arms and back.

c)      Get as close to the trolley as possible and make sure you can keep your elbows close to your body.

d)      In this position you are well balanced, should the load move forward or backward unexpectedly.

e)      When pushing, initiate the movement with a thrust from the back foot.

f)       When pulling, initiate the movement with a thrust from the front foot.


Airside Safety | Safe Manual Handling and Lifting Technique



Back injuries and problems are common for ramp personnel; most injuries commonly are sprains or strains particularly of the back. Sprains and strains arise from many causes include improper manual handling and lifting techniques, poor posture, lack of fitness, fatigue, stress, not stretching before lifting, and lifting excessive loads. Many lifting and manual handling injuries are cumulative rather than attributed to one single injury. A full recovery is not always made; the result can be physical impairment or even permanent disability.

Airlines and ground handling companies should assess the key risk factors of manual handling and lifting and include safety steps to ensure ramp personnel is lifting in the safest possible way. Furthermore, they should specify that all lifting and manual handling activities should be avoided when practical to do so and implement controls/measures such as the use of mechanical aids when it is impossible to avoid such activities


Finally, remember that prevention of back injuries is always better than the cure!


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-          The University of Newcastle - Manual Handling

-          IATA Airport Handling Manual


Maged Saeed AL-Hadabi

I’m Instructor / Maged Saeed Al-Hadabi. ​ Air Cargo / IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations / Safety Management System Senior Instructor, Auditor [ Yemen Airways] . Approved IATA DGR/ SMS Instructor by Yemen Civil Aviation Authority. We hope you find Aviation Professional website not only informative, but interesting and helpful as well. Leave your comment , thank you.

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