Safely handle and transport substances

Meet your legal obligations as an employer to ensure employee safety in handling and transporting substances.


7 min read

1. Overview

All businesses must assess the risks and implications of:

  • manual handling
  • transport in the workplace
  • slips and trips
  • transporting goods and materials
  • managing harmful substances

This guide explains how to meet your legal requirement to assess and control the risks and sets out what to do to make your workplace safer.

2. Manual handling and slips and trips

Failing to protect employees against the risks of manual-handling activities could lead to staff taking time off sick or a compensation claim.

You're legally required to assess the risks that employees face when handling objects as part of your overall health and safety risk assessment.

You can reduce the risks of manual handling by:

  • providing handling equipment
  • training employees to lift and carry correctly
  • avoiding manual handling where possible
  • ensure lifting equipment is safe
  • provide personal protective equipment

Avoid slips and trips

As an employer, you must meet your legal requirement to assess and control the risks of slips and trips.

If a customer or member of staff injures themselves on your premises, you could be hit by a claim for damages - only part of which is likely to be covered by your insurance.

You can minimise risks by:

  • cleaning up spillages
  • installing appropriate flooring and issuing slip-resistant footwear
  • ensuring the workplace is well lit
  • using a cable tidy for loose wires
  • providing personal protective equipment
  • encouraging employee responsibility
  • issuing employee safety guidelines

Employees who regularly work outdoors may face additional risks due to hazards such as the weather and uneven ground or pavements.

If you have employees who work off-site - eg making deliveries in a van - it's far more difficult for you to control risks.

You can, however, ensure that employees are aware of the risks and are appropriately trained for their role.

3. Transport in the workplace

Almost every business uses transport, whether it's to make or receive deliveries or just to move goods around their premises. You must assess and manage the risks of any transport that you use.

Loading, unloading and tipping

You should consider:

  • Ensuring that the area where loading and unloading takes place is clear of other traffic and pedestrians.
  • Sourcing safety equipment. For example, you might need guard rails or plates to prevent anything getting caught in machinery such as a vehicle tail lift.
  • Ensuring that the vehicle is stable and safe with any brakes properly applied.
  • Loading the vehicle safely. For example, you may need to spread the load evenly and avoid overloading.
  • Avoiding using vehicles that require the load to be sheeted and unsheeted. If you must use them, minimise the risks.
  • Unloading by tipping carries extra risks - for example if the load is tipped onto someone or if the vehicle overturns.

Parking and reversing

You should avoid the need for reversing or inappropriate parking, if possible.

Where reversing is unavoidable, you should minimise the risks. For example, try to reverse only where there are no blind spots, pedestrians or other traffic. You should remember that:

  • drivers need training in safe practices
  • you may need to use signalling equipment or signallers
  • vehicles should be fitted with appropriate mirrors
  • you may need other safety equipment, such as barriers, reversing alarms or reverse parking sensors

Manage vehicle movements to ensure safety in the workplace

You should:

  • Reassess your work practices to reduce vehicle movements within your premises by re-siting operations or installing equipment such as conveyors.
  • Plan safe traffic routes.
  • Ensure that loads are safely secured.
  • Make sure route surfaces are constructed of suitable material and properly drained. Avoid steep slopes.
  • Provide separate routes for pedestrians where possible, and barriers or guard rails if appropriate.
  • Ensure routes are clearly marked using painted lines and other devices.
  • Use signposting to explain routes and warn of potential dangers.
  • Provide adequate and suitable parking and loading bays.
  • Provide adequate lighting throughout, particularly in areas such as junctions and routes used by pedestrians.

Avoid falls from vehicles

The safest course of action is to eliminate the need to climb onto vehicles in the first place - by providing a loading platform, for instance.

Where climbing onto a vehicle is unavoidable, you can reduce the risks by using suitable access equipment such as walkways with guard rails. Restrict access to people who must be there.

Manage vehicle exhaust emissions

As part of your health and safety responsibilities, you are legally required to prevent or at least control exposure to vehicle exhaust emissions.

In confined or completely enclosed spaces, you must use electric-propulsion or possibly liquefied petroleum gas fuel to avoid a build-up of fumes - in forklift trucks, for example.

You should also be aware of the level of noise caused by your vehicles when moving around at night as well as the risk of emitting excessive dust, grit and fumes.

Reducing your vehicle use and choosing more environmentally friendly alternatives can reduce your environmental impact and benefit your business financially. Energy Saving Trust Scotland offers support for improving the sustainability of your business transport.

Avoid vehicle overturns

Part of prevention is to ensure that you use the right vehicles, with the right safety equipment. There is a legal requirement for most vehicles to be fitted with a roll over protection system and restraints if there is a danger of them overturning, but it's equally important to ensure that drivers are properly trained and follow safe procedures.

Coupling and uncoupling trailers

It's essential to follow safe practice, ensuring that the right brakes have been properly engaged.

You should also ensure that the risks from any loading or unloading are minimised.

4. Transporting goods and materials

There are specific legal duties you must comply with if you transport hazardous goods and certain other items, including food, animals and wastes.

Minimise the risks of transporting goods

There are some useful steps you can take to protect your goods against common risks:

  • Ensure you use the most appropriate form of transport for your goods.
  • Consider how best to protect large, heavy or unusual loads.
  • Ensure loads are secure and weight is distributed evenly - this is essential, even if you're just carrying a ladder on the roof of a vehicle.
  • Consider whether you need goods-in-transit or marine insurance to protect goods being transported. This may be paid for by the buyer or seller of goods, depending on the terms of trade you agree.
  • Always take appropriate security measures. For example, for high-value goods you could consider using a vehicle-tracking system.
  • Make sure suitable packaging, labelling and containers are used. It's common for goods to be damaged in transit and good protection and effective packaging will help reduce this risk.
  • Put suitable warning signs on vehicles - for example, to indicate an overhanging, wide, long or hazardous load.


Your duties when transporting food include:

  • keeping all food fresh and preventing it from becoming contaminated
  • transporting food at the correct temperature to stop it deteriorating
  • ensuring raw food is segregated from cooked food during transportation to prevent cross-contamination
  • ensuring all containers and vehicles are cleaned regularly and thoroughly


Your duties when transporting animals include:

  • vehicles must be well maintained and designed to carry animals safely
  • animals should be handled by properly trained and experienced people
  • there are limits to the amount of time animals spend being transported
  • there are strict controls on the transportation of horses and young animals


If you collect or transport waste or arrange for waste to be transported, disposed of or recovered, you must register as a waste carrier with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

You should bear in mind that if the waste is classified as dangerous waste, you must comply with the regulations for transporting dangerous goods.

If you transport animal by-products - such as animal carcasses, parts of animal carcasses and some catering wastes - you must register with and receive approval from Animal Health.

5. Manage harmful substances safely

Every business has a responsibility to its workers, customers and the public to protect them from harmful effects caused by hazardous substances.

There are four types of hazardous substances that you need to check for:

  • Substances used in your business such as adhesives, solvents, paints or cleaning agents. If these are hazardous the supplier should have labelled them as such. Suppliers have a legal obligation to provide you with a safety data sheet with these substances.
  • Substances generated in the course of your business, eg fumes from soldering, hot oil or metal-plating.
  • Naturally occurring substances in your workplace which arise as a result of your work activity, eg grain dust in an agricultural business or blood and blood products in a healthcare business.
  • Biological agents, eg bacteria and other micro-organisms.

The Health & Safety Executive offers guidance on what you need to do to control hazardous substances in the workplace. There are special rules for:

If you manufacture or import chemicals, you may have to register them with the register them with a central European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

Find guidance on storing goods and materials.

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