Hive Manipulation - Safe Lifting
During colony inspection it is necessary to break open the hive and separate the brood and super chambers, working down through the hive by placing these to one side. This involves lifting each of the super chambers that, towards the end of the season, can weigh upwards of 11.5kg (about 25lbs) and if the deeper brood chambers are also used for honey storage then the overall weight could be around 17kg.
There are some common sense things to do in preparation before and during the lift:
  • Check that you are comfortable with lifting the weight - see chart for general guidance - note that the optimum lift is at around pelvic height with the comfortable lift capacity rapidly falling off as the load is lowered towards ground level.

  • Beware that starting at waist-pelvic height a lift weight in the comfort zone could become too onerous when lowered towards ground level.

  • Positioned from the sides or rear but not the front of the hive, remove all obstructions from the immediate working area.
  • Check the condition of the chamber, making sure that the timber work and particularly the hand holds are in good condition.

  • Before attempting the full lift check that the chamber below is free and has not been stuck to the lifting chamber by the bees' liberal application of propolis - if so, before commencing the lift, you will need to lever the two chambers apart with a hive tool.

  • The final detachment is achieved by slightly radially skewing the chamber being manhandled - this should be done by arm movement alone and not be twisting your back - the reverse skewing action is applied when the chamber is being re-assembled onto the hive.

  • When lifting, keep the load close to the waist and as close to your body for as long as possible during the lift sequence.

  • If the chamber is unevenly loaded, keep the heaviest side of the chamber next to your body.

  • Adopt a stable position and make sure your feet are apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance.

  • If the weight is too much, complete the lift jointly with another person of about equal height to yourself.
Adopt a stable position. The feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it is on the ground). Be prepared to move your feet during the lift to maintain your stability.

Get a good hold. Where possible, the load should be hugged as close as possible to the body - ensure that gloves (if worn) are well fitted with the fingers snugly inserted into their sheaths.
Start in a good posture. At the start of the lift from a low level, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees (squatting).

Do not flex your back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the chamber.

Keep the load close to the waist. Keep the chamber close to the body for as long as possible while lifting with the heaviest side of the load next to your body.

    Lifting Chart
    Lift from GroundLift from Ground

Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent. Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips - turning by moving the feet is better than twisting your back and lifting at the same time.

Keep the head up when handling. Once the chamber has been grasped securely, look ahead not down at the chamber.

Move smoothly. The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.

Don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed. There is a difference between what people can lift and what they can comfortably and safely lift - see chart above.

Put down, then adjust. When squaring-up the chamber to the inverted roof or previous chamber, put it down first, then slide it into the desired position.

Do's and Don'ts. If you are not sure and confident and/or it seems too heavy DON'T attempt the lift and DO practice lifting on an empty hive that has been set up specially for the purpose.

For other Health & Safety aspects of safely working in the Apiary read the Oxleas Wood Apiary Risk Assessment.