Exeter International Airport

Manual Handling Training

Case Study

Continuing our provision of bespoke Manual Handling Training for the Aviation sector, following our Manual Handling Risk Assessment Consultancy for Exeter International Airport (EIA), supported by a full site knowledge of EIA's manual handling operations 2 days later our Director Gareth Milner provided a 1 Day Manual Handling Instructor CPD Course for EIA's 2 trained Manual Handling Instructors.

For our Instructor CPD Course Learning Outcomes and Outline please click on this PDF

As EIA was fully operational on the day not all areas of the Airport could be accessed however a sufficient amount of the site could be accessed to allow the practical during the day to be effective within the Course objective.


After the brief morning classroom refresher on relevant laws and basic spinal anatomy, Gareth enhanced the Instructors’ knowledge on biomechanics relevant to unsafe manual handling practices using videos obtained only 2 days previously during the Risk Assessment Consultancy at EIA. A number of these videos can be seen on the Risk Assessment Consultancy page at EIA on this link. So that the Instructors could develop their understanding of manual handling, videos of unsafe practices in other industries were played and discussed with the Instructors.

To go through the basics and principles of lifting and lowering technique with Squat and Lunge practice, the store rooms at EIA were a good place to start the practical. Demonstration of technique with loads by Gareth was followed by each Instructor demonstrating whilst talking through as if they were teaching. This gave Gareth the opportunity to assess the Instructors in their knowledge and skill in teaching the correct biomechanics of lifting and lowering technique. As ever in these CPD Courses (due to the non regulation of this training profession and many providers being non specialists in this field) Gareth cleared up errors in technique that the experienced Instructors had been teaching. For the correct biomechanics of lifting and lowering please click this link.

Following this, outside of the store room (as shown above) 25 bags were then lifted and lowered with Gareth observing and offering constructive feedback. As shown in the photo to the left the Instructor performed a good squat, but to optimise technique there needed to be a little more bending through the hips and knees. Also (a common error) his head was positioned looking too far forward which will put compressional strain on the lower neck joints.

Other loads across the site were then used including Ground Operations’ cones. Gareth is demonstrating a squat lift in the photo to the right. It was common for staff to avoid lifting these lightweight cones and drag them with one arm, which is far more hazardous for the musculoskeletal system, especially for the neck and shoulder. This is shown in the photo below left.

Team handling involving a moderate weight piping was then practised. This load could be lifted by one person, however this would create an unsafe posture due to the size and awkwardness of the load. After going through the key HSE guidelines for team lifting, carrying and lowering the Instructor (in the photo below) is giving the order ‘ Ready, Brace, Lift ‘ to Gareth, with both of them performing a full squat lift. The Instructor on the left has his head looking too far forward with his neck in an extended position. Gareth is demonstrating the position that the head and neck should be in during a full squat lift.

Team carrying is commonly forgotten by many Manual Handling training providers from our experience. The 3 ways of team carrying were covered with the Instructors. With the moderate weight piping, it was perfectly reasonable and low risk to carry in a team of 2 with one arm. The Instructors were informed to teach alternation of the side you carry with loads such as this.

Carrying a heavy chock in the natural (but biomechanically hazardous) way with one arm is demonstrated by Gareth in the photo below left.

The video to the right shows an EIA employee carrying a heavy chock with one arm the approximate distance of 40 metres from the plane to the area where the Aviramp and tugs were positioned on the airport tarmac. This will cause musculoskeletal strain to the right shoulder, the neck and lower back. The employee then lowered the chock with (an unnecessary) natural practice involving a side bend and twist of the spine, a position of the spine that strains the lower back discs. The Instructors were encouraged to teach Ground Operations employees to carry the load with both arms held close to the body at the upper stomach/ lower chest level. This will reduce the musculoskeletal strain and likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) related with this task.

Safer practice for the back when lowering would be to lower the chock with a semi-squat as demonstrated by Gareth in the photo to the left. Compare this practice with unsafe lowering posture shown in the central photo. 

        At EIA the Fire Service team perform baggage handling tasks. Observations with the Instructors included experienced staff throwing bags (after lifting from the baggage bins) onto conveyors. The majority of the force generation for this comes from the lumbar spine muscles (the lower back). As our nationwide team are practising Osteopaths, 9 out of 10 patients we see present with lower back pain. A safer way to transfer the bag onto the conveyor is shown below right, simply by performing a semi-squat lower and then a gentle push onto the conveyor. In this baggage handling area at EIA, task time pressures did not enforce this hazardous throw.

Classically Manual Handling Instructors teach that forward bending (or stooping) is unsafe practice and high risk for causing back injuries. But sometimes it is the only way of reducing task strain. In the photo below Gareth talks to the Instructors about avoidance of twisting when handling around baggage bins, with the safest way for the spine to perform a pure forward bend when bags are near the opening of the baggage bin, and for bags at the back of the baggage bin, placing one foot onto the bin’s base will allow the person to handle the bag at the back of the bin with an improved posture. Gareth educated the Instructors that sometimes forward bending (with both feet on the ground with no spinal twisting) is the safest handling posture.

A great example of why these 1 Day Instructor CPD Courses are essential for already trained Instructors was concerning the pushing practice shown in the right photo. The Instructor was unaware that this position of the feet effectively turns off the right leg muscles, placing excessive strain on the left knee and relying on bodyweight and the relatively weak upper body muscles to move the baggage bin forward. Although recommended in our Manual Handling Risk Assessment report to be a vehicle task, team pushing and pulling of the baggage bins was practiced with Gareth’s observation and constructive feedback.

Commonly we find Health & Safety Managers are looking for a ‘safe’ way to lift people. There simply isn’t a safe way to lift people, even with practising the key principles of safer manual handling technique. You can perform safer practice, however the load weight of the person and the awkwardness of grip will enforce significant biomechanical strain. In the care sector there is an industry ‘no lift policy’. The video to the left shows that the employees are performing as good a technique as they can do (if picking, the left employee could perform a deeper squat). For this task of transferring the PRM to and from the Columbia chair we recommended 4 solutions. To view 2 of these please view our EIA Risk Assessment Case Study on this link.

After lunch it was back to the Fire Service department. Non standard Fire Services tasks were performed including team lifting and lowering of mowers onto and off of vehicles. Please note on the photo to the right, the EIA Fire Service Manager’s (pictured on the right of the photo) perfect application of a squat lift; already an improvement from his technique from the morning practical session. A wide, symmetrical and stable base using maximum power from his hip and thigh muscles.

Whether training Instructors initially (please view our 3 Day & 2 Day Courses on this link), or providing Instructors CPD or training the workforce, engraining safer manual handling techniques and practices is about practice, practice and a little more practice, and only with this will it go in, as we all know safer practices are not natural. Therefore back to single person squat lifting and lowering as shown below with the chocks observed by Gareth and EIA's most experienced Instructor.

Here above, Gareth coaches safer practice of a semi-squat. There are a few errors in his technique. To avoid the unnecessary amount of squatting, the arms should be more straight (less bent at the elbow). What was evident from the morning session was that he was looking less forward during the lifting phase. Demonstrations by Gareth followed, with lifting hoses from Fire Services vehicle racks and carrying as shown in the right photos. 

          Throwing of hoses is rather like throwing a rugby ball in that people have dominant and more coordinated sides. Although not a high risk manual handling task, reducing the strain involves getting used to throwing ‘off the weaker arm‘.

Summing up, an extremely positive day of developing EIA’s Manual Handling Instructors, engaging them to decrease EIA’s lost time accidents from MSDs.

If you haven't already, please view our Manual Handling Risk Assessment Consultancy at EIA by clicking their logo below
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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