Essex County Council Case Study


Grounds Maintenance Bespoke Manual Handling Training

Download our Grounds Maintenance, Parks & Open Spaces Bespoke Manual Handling Programme Course Outline by clicking the PDF to the right

In 2013, Essex County Council's Learning & Development Team contracted Osteopathic Solutions to provide a Bespoke Manual Handling Training Programme for their Grounds Maintenance, Parks & Open Spaces workforce at the Weald Country Park, Brentwood continuing our client relationship with Essex County Council (which is still in place in 2020). Since 2010, 88 Councils across the UK have contracted Osteopathic Solutions to support them with their regulatory training requirements.

Our Director and Manual Handling Expert Gareth Milner trained 30 employees in 3 x 2 Hour Manual Handling Practical Skills Courses. Before the task specific practical each 2 Hour Course started with an introduction as to the reasons for manual handling training i.e. to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (especially to the lower back, neck, knees and shoulders that can occur from regular practice of natural, hazardous lifting, carrying, lowering, pushing and pulling practices) and to reduce workplace manual handling related injuries and lost time accidents. The onsite training also ensured Essex County Council's compliance with Health & Safety Legislation including the Manual Handling Operations Regulations.

In the 20 minutes of classroom theory Gareth (which we can omit making the 2 Hour Course 100% practical) asked each 2 Hour Course group as to whether anyone was currently suffering from an acute back injury, as the practical involved heavy manual handling tasks. A simple explanation was given on the anatomy of the spine and manual handling related back injuries that can occur, including symptoms of back pain (such as aching pain; sharp on movement; burning; shooting) which were discussed. As Gareth qualified in Osteopathy from the European School of Osteopathy in 2004. This helped to engage the group, especially in having confidence that he was an expert in what is a technical subject. Using an imitation spine which was passed around each group, Gareth briefly and simply explained what the spinal structures are, explaining disc injuries, their causation and symptoms.

Lifting Demonstration Model

Using a Lifting Demonstration Model as shown in the photo above right (see our Manual Handling Expert Jonathan Simmonds' Lifting Demonstration Model video on this link), Gareth explained hazardous lifting technique using a forward bent spinal posture. The lifting model highlights how the weight of the load levers around the lower back, forcing the weight of the load and the head, arms and trunk onto the relatively small and weak, overstretched lower back muscles. The lifting model was then passed around the groups, aiding their learning on manual handling practices to avoid, improving their workplace health and wellbeing.

Hazardous manual handling lifting technique

As there was a maximum group size of 10 Parks & Open Spaces employees, coupled with a short walk to the practical location, in order to maintain sufficient time for the hands on practical our real life videos of hazardous practices were not shown in the classroom. The job specific practical included squat lifting and lowering, lunge lifting and lowering, carrying, pushing, pulling and team handling of loads. Please view our Manual Handling Techniques Explained page for Explainer Videos on best practice technique. The practical kicked off with some postural awareness, with the attendees performing spinal movements; forward and backward bending, side bending and rotation (twisting). Formerly a practising Osteopath, Gareth has seen many back injuries caused by forward bending and twisting (as demonstrated in the left photo). From our experience, making people aware of the natural, hazardous techniques they perform on a daily basis helps to

change habits more than just demonstrating best practice, safer techniques. This unique point to our cost effective (£19.83 per attendee), Bespoke Manual Handling Training makes our content memorable as well as effective in reducing manual handling related injuries and claims. 

Only £19.83 per Council employee. What did your last claim cost your Council due to insufficient Manual Handling Risk Management? Email Gareth or call on 0845 299 3513 to hear what solutions we can provide your Council

Before the squat lifting practical, the groups performed 5 semi squats and 5 full squats in order to warm up their leg muscles and to focus the mind on lifting and lowering with the legs. The semi-squat lift was demonstrated by Gareth with a 25kg bag of sand as pictured to the right. The principles of safe lifting involve a base of support slightly wider than shoulder width apart, close to the load, facing square on. Bending through the hips and knees is initiated to get down to the load to aid a secure grip. Once the grip is secured, with the neck in a neutral position (neither looking forward nor looking at the load), the load is pulled into the stomach using the arms. The load is then lifted using the powerful leg muscles by pushing the floor away.

Best practice Squat lifting bag of sand

Each attendee then performed a squat lift and lower with Gareth involving the group to give each person constructive feedback to improve their body positioning and application of technique. If attendees didn't get it right first time, they were asked to perform the manual handling task again with Gareth explaining to them what they needed to do. Common mistakes include having the feet too close together; not bending the hips and knees enough; applying an insecure grip; not focusing the load on the legs, looking down during the lift etc. With Osteopathic Solutions as your preferred provider of Bespoke Manual Handling Training, you can be assured that your workforce are being taught by true Manual Handling Experts and not Health & Safety/ HR Generalists. Please view Gareth's Blog ' Questions to ask a Manual Handling Training Provider' on our Blogs Page.

Squat lifting observation

The example to the left details that when your feet are positioned too close together (i.e. hip width apart), with a heavy load, both heels will come off the floor which is highly unstable placing more pressure on the back muscles. The attendee in this example is trying to keep his back too upright which will create excessive tension in the lower back muscles. The image above of Gareth lifting details that the spine should be straight but no longer upright.

The full squat lift and lower was then performed by Gareth with each attendee performing this. In the image to the right of the attendee, his hips are lower than the level of his knees which places significant strain on his knees and also reduces the power in his leg muscles (especially to the glutes and the quadriceps).​


Lifting and lowering loads at ground level should be reduced through risk assessment but in the real world it is a common necessary work practice. The same principles of the semi-squat lift apply, just with more bending through the hips and knees.

Hazardous full squat lift

Each Course moved on to carrying of loads. A few of the attendees demonstrated hazardous carrying positions. Before they did this, Gareth asked if they had a back and/ or neck injury. If they did, they were not asked to demonstrate hazardous carrying. Typical positions include carrying on the shoulder; under the arm; or with 1 arm straight with no load carried by the other arm. All unsafe carrying positions enforce the spine to side bend away from the load, twisting towards it. Practised commonly at work (and at home), it is a practice that will initiate back injuries or be a contributing factor. As shown in the photo to the left, attendees observe safe carrying with the load carried by both arms, supported on the stomach/ lower chest. This minimises spinal strain.

Using a wheelbarrow, pushing and pulling was then covered practically. Common hazardous practice involves use of bodyweight. When the load is of a moderate to heavy weight, in order to avoid hazardous spinal postures when moving a load from a standing start, it is essential to use more leg power when pushing and pulling. Gareth demonstrates safer pushing, standing with 1 foot in front of the other, with a semi squat, keeping the elbows close to the body. Gareth asked each attendee to compare best practice (unnatural) technique with hazardous (natural) technique for pushing and pulling. Many of the attendees felt the weight of the wheelbarrow through their neck with hazardous  practice, and a reduction when safer technique was applied.

Want our Course Booklet free of charge? Email us at the bottom of this page with the email subject

' Free Manual Handling Course Booklet ' & we will email you the PDF free of charge

One of the attendees asked Gareth if there was a safe way to tip the wheelbarrow. As our Manual Handling Experts provide realistic, real life manual handling training Gareth informed the group that it is not possible to tip loads with minimal spinal strain, as the load is held away from the body. It is one of those manual tasks e.g. sweeping, digging, lifting above head height etc. that will enforce awkward posture. ​

Team Handling Generator
Team Handling Generator

press to zoom
Team Handling Generator
Team Handling Generator

press to zoom
Team Handling Generator
Team Handling Generator

press to zoom

Team lifting and lowering was then practised using a generator, lifting in a team of 2, from the vehicle and lowered to the ground. The generator was then lifted in a team of 2 from the ground back to the vehicle. Even with a team of 2, a forward bend and twist is enforced with this task during the lift from the vehicle, and when lowering back onto the vehicle. This was evident to the attendees and Gareth informed them that this cannot be avoided and to reduce risks from this task it was essential to nominate a team leader who coordinates the task using 'Ready, Brace, Lift' and 'Ready, Brace, Lower'. To further reduce the risk for one of the team, the generator could have been slid to the edge of the vehicle platform. In the example in the left photos, this enabled the attendee in the green fleece to keep his spine straight during the lift, avoiding a side bend and twist to the right. 

As with all manual jobs, there were some tasks that the attendees pointed out they found difficult and awkward. Lifting bags of dog excrement was a difficult task which enforced hazardous lifting technique. The current bin design enforced lifting the heavy bags with the arm and shoulder muscles. To then get the bag over the top lip of the bin, a backward spinal bend is needed. As the load smells, this further enforces the operator to keep the load away from their body. This could lead to neck, upper limb and lower back musculoskeletal disorders. A simple solution that the Country Park was putting in place was to have bins that had an opening at its front in order to aid best practice lifting technique, reducing the strain on the arms.

Another task that was hazardous for the back was dragging branches to the branch chipper machine. This enforced pulling the branches along the ground using bodyweight and a spinal forward bend, side bend and twist. Due to the uneven floor surfaces, trip hazards and even the hazard of the branch chipper itself, this posture was enforced by the task, load and environment. Alternating the side of the carry will reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders with this awkward task which was informed during the training.

Summing up, a positive day of training at the Weald Country Park, with great understanding and practical participation by all. 

Osteopathic Solutions Ltd

T:  0845 299 3513

Company Registration Number: 07743200

VAT Registration Number: 139 388572

CPD Certification Service Member Number: 12602

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