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Management of Lifting Operations

Built Environment / Engineering

The HSE publishes data each year on fatal and non-fatal injuries to workers that occur in the previous period. Regrettably, some of these injuries occur because of unsafe lifting operations. Lifting operations are not limited to large cranes on construction sites, but can occur in a range of industries and activities, for example:

Compliance with UK legislation regarding occupational health and safety forms a hierarchy, at the top of which is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This requires that employers protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work. Under this Statute  numerous Regulations exist, for example the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Another key regulation is the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) which governs lifting operations and the equipment used. The main part of LOLER is Regulation 8, “Organising of lifting operations”.

To assist in compliance with these Regulations, the HSE produces Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) which are third in the compliance hierarchy. To assist further with the understanding of legal duties and how to adhere to them, the HSE produces numerous guidance documents (fourth in the hierarchy), most of which are available from the HSE website. Other guidance documents and codes of practice (often written in conjunction with the HSE) are also available through National Industry bodies and such publications form the fifth and final level of the compliance hierarchy. 


There are three main requirements set out by LOLER when organising lifting operations:

“Every employer shall ensure that every lifting operation involving lifting equipment is –

a) Properly planned by a competent person;

b) Appropriately supervised; and

c) Carried out in a safe manner.

Under UK legislation, all work activities must be risk assessed and have a safe system of work. One of the most important parts to a lifting operation is the lifting plan, which is essentially the risk assessment and system of work for lifting operations. This plan must be carried out by someone competent and in good time before the lifting operation commences. For lifting involving cranes, this competent person is known as the ‘Appointed Person’ or ‘AP’. For more involved operations, the plan can often be split into an initial overview and then more detailed sections covering each stage of the operation. 


The initial overview will outline what is generally going to happen, what equipment is to be used and how the risks are to be controlled. This initial plan should also identify the complexity of the lifting operation and whether it can be classed as “routine” or “non-routine”. According to the HSE LOLER ACOP, routine lifting operations can be covered by a standard plan with a generic risk assessment. 

The individual routine lifting operations can then be planned by the people using the lifting equipment such as the operator, providing they have suitable knowledge and experience to do so. In contrast, non-routine lifting operations should planned each time the task is carried out.

The complexity of the lifting operation needs to be considered so that proportionate levels of controls are applied to mitigate the risks. The complexity will be a function of the hazards associated with both the environment and the load. A suite of standards, BS 7121, exist in the UK to provide guidance in carrying out lifting operations using cranes. Below is a table from the first of this series which gives an example of the classification of the complexity of lifting operations. 

Examples of environmental hazards include: rain, wind, overhead power lines, poor ground conditions and adjacent activities. Load hazards include: uncertainty of the weight or centre of gravity of the load, a fluid load (e.g. containers filled with water) and the integrity of the load.


When planning the lifting operation, relevant guidance documents should be reviewed to ensure all aspects of the operation are conducted in a safe and controlled way. Below are some examples of aspects that should be considered:


In our experience, if the lift plan is developed by a competent person, reviewed and the lifting team are briefed, most problems can be identified before the lifting starts. Nevertheless, complications can arise before the operation begins or during the lifting operation due to unplanned or unforeseen hazards. We have provided a few examples below, but by no means is this an exhaustive list:


Richard Giles-Carlsson has extensive experience in Civil Engineering, having worked on large projects such as the Bond Street Station Upgrade in London and the Davyhulme Wastewater Treatment project in Manchester before joining Hawkin’s Civil & Structural Engineering team in 2017. Richard is an Incorporated Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers

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