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Material Handling Vs Safe Lifting: What Is The Difference

Material Handling Vs Safe Lifting: What Is The Difference

Nov 15 2023 at 11:24

Distinguishing between material handling and safe lifting practices is of utmost importance for worker safety and productivity, especially when it comes to manual labour and industries involving heavy objects. These two concepts may appear closely related, but in actuality, they serve distinct purposes and necessitate unique skill sets. In this article, we explore the distinctions between material handling and safe lifting, shedding light on their specific objectives and how they can be integrated to maximise efficiency in various workplace settings.


Material handling defined

Material handling is a broad term encompassing a wide range of activities related to the movement, protection, control, and storage of materials and products throughout manufacturing and distribution. This includes everything from the moment raw materials are received at a facility to the point they are transformed into finished products and finally shipped to customers. Material handling is an integral part of the supply chain, and efficient material handling practices are essential for reducing costs, increasing productivity, and maintaining a safe working environment.


The key aspects of material handling

  • Protection: Ensuring the protection and safety of materials during handling is a critical aspect – packaging, labelling, and careful handling techniques are necessary to prevent damage to products.
  • Inventory control: Material handling involves managing inventory to prevent stockouts or overstocking. Proper inventory control ensures that the right materials are available when needed, thus reducing production downtime.
  • Storage: Effective storage solutions are vital for maintaining an efficient and organised workspace. Warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and distribution centres all require suitable storage systems to keep materials and products secure and easily accessible.
  • Transportation: One of the fundamental aspects of material handling is the transportation of materials within a facility or between different locations. This can involve the use of various equipment, such as conveyors, forklifts, reach trucks, or even manual handling.


Safe lifting defined

On the other hand, safe lifting practices are a specific subset of material handling that focuses on the proper techniques for lifting and moving objects to minimise the risk of injury. Safe lifting is not limited to industrial settings; it also applies to everyday activities. Whether moving furniture at home or lifting heavy objects at work, knowing how to lift safely is essential.

The importance of safe lifting operations cannot be overstated, as it forms the bedrock of maintaining a secure working environment and reduces the need for occupational first aid, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more productive workplace.


The key aspects of safe lifting

  • Use of lifting equipment: In industrial settings, the use of lifting equipment like lifting attachments is common. As such, proper training and knowledge of these tools are essential for safe lifting.
  • Collaborative efforts: For heavier or bulkier items, involving multiple people can be an effective strategy. Team lifting helps distribute the weight evenly and reduces the risk of individual strain. It is important to note that the utilisation of proper lifting aids should not be disregarded when necessary.
  • Weight distribution: Understanding how to distribute the weight of an object is important. It’s advisable to keep the heaviest part of the load close to your body and centre of gravity to maintain balance.
  • Proper body mechanics: Safe lifting begins with proper body mechanics. This includes maintaining a balanced and stable stance, keeping the spine in a neutral position, and using the legs to lift rather than the back. When lifting, it’s crucial to bend at the knees and not the waist.


Distinguishing between safe lifting and material handling

Below, we explore the main differences between these two concepts;


1. Applicability

Material handling applies to a wide range of industries and scenarios, including logistics, warehousing, distribution, and manufacturing. Safe lifting, while essential in many of these settings, also applies to everyday activities such as lifting in retail environments or at home – in short, the principles of safe lifting are universal and can be applied in various contexts.


2. Training and skills

Material handling requires a diverse set of skills, including the operation of a variety of equipment and an understanding of logistics and inventory management. Training in material handling often involves process optimisation and efficiency. Safe lifting, however, primarily involves understanding proper body mechanics, weight distribution, and techniques for minimising the risk of injury. Training in safe lifting is geared towards promoting worker safety and health.


3. Scope and purpose

As stated above, material handling encompasses a broad range of activities related to managing, storing, and moving materials and products within a facility. It focuses on optimising processes for efficiency and cost reduction. In contrast, safe lifting is a subset of material handling, specifically addressing the techniques and practices required to lift and move objects without causing injury. As previously mentioned, the purpose of safe lifting is primarily to ensure the well-being of workers.


Tools and techniques to maximise productivity

It is important to explore the tools and techniques that can be used to maximise productivity while ensuring the safety of workers.


  • Material handling
  1. Employee training: Providing comprehensive training in material handling processes and equipment operation is vital for ensuring workers can perform their tasks safely and efficiently.
  2. Ergonomics: Designing workstations and equipment with ergonomics in mind can help reduce the risk of injury and improve worker efficiency and comfort.
  3. Automation: Incorporating automation technology, like robotic material handlers and conveyor systems, can significantly increase productivity while reducing the physical strain on workers.


  • Safe lifting
  1. Utilising lifting aids: In industrial settings, the use of lifting aids, such as pallet jacks and dollies, can significantly improve the safety and ease the lifting of heavy objects. Proper training for workers in the correct use of these tools are essential. In cases where the weight exceeds safe team handling or possesses safety concerns, it is crucial to employ suitable equipment.
  2. Proper training: The most critical tool for safe lifting is knowledge – proper training on safe lifting techniques is essential for all workers, regardless of their industry. Training should cover the basics of body mechanics, weight distribution, and the use of lifting equipment.
  3. Teamwork: Encouraging teamwork and collaboration in lifting heavy objects can reduce the risk of injury. Always seek help when lifting an object that is too heavy to handle alone.



Material handling and safe lifting are two different but interconnected aspects of work. Understanding the differences between these two concepts and implementing the appropriate tools and techniques is essential for creating a safe and productive work environment.

Prioritising safety and productivity allow businesses to strike a balance that benefits both their bottom line and their employees’ well-being. If you’re looking to enhance your employees' skill sets through training programmes, look no further than Wong Fong Academy! We offer a variety of courses, including reach truck training and the AWSHPP course in Singapore, among other options. Feel free to get in touch with us today to inquire about the available funding or to gain further insights into our training offerings.