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What Is A Safe Working Load (SWL) And Why Does It Matter?

September 22, 2023

Safe working load (SWL) is commonly referred to as the maximum lifting capacity of mechanical handling and lifting equipment

However, it’s good to note that while many people search for and still refer to ‘safe working load’ (including the HSE here in the UK) – the term has been phased out in many other locations. 

Instead, it’s now more common to see terms such as working load limit (WLL), normal working load (NWL), minimum breaking strength (MBS) and maximum rated capacity (MRC). 

So while this post will refer to safe working loads, you should check your country’s safety standards, along with the manufacturers’ ratings to find the applicable terminology, since this will differ depending on your location.  

Most importantly, we’ll cover why understanding safe lifting loads, in general, is important for both personnel and equipment in any environment where the lifting of heavy loads takes place.

What Is A Safe Working Load (SWL) Or Normal Working Load (NWL)?

gantry crane transporting stack of metal pipes 2022 08 26 13 36 21 utc from Metreel

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) states that employers “must protect workers from the risk of injury from manual handling”.

This includes safe working loads, which the HSE adds must be clearly marked on all lifting equipment and accessories. Furthermore, the SWL must be shown to represent all potential configurations, such as “where the hook of an engine hoist can be moved to different positions”.

In instances where equipment is used to lift people, the number of people that can be transported in addition to the SWL needs to be clearly marked.

Whether using the terms safe working load (SWL) or normal working load (NWL) – the aim is to find out the maximum safe force that a piece of lifting equipment can withstand to lift, suspend or lower without the risk of breaking. 

It is the risk of equipment breakage why terms such as MBS (minimum breaking strength) and minimum breaking load (MBL) are also commonly used on lifting equipment. 

Why Is It Important To Lift Within The Stated Safe Limit?

Any abbreviation which denotes safety parameters needs to be respected by all those who use lifting and material handling equipment (MHE).

This is because that equipment will have been rigorously tested and observed to see what level of force has the potential to degrade or break that equipment. If this limit were to be reached by the user, it could cause catastrophic injuries to personnel or irreparable damage to the equipment itself. 

Knowing the SWL also allows for effective load planning and distribution. This ensures that loads can be safely lifted, lowered or repositioned while being distributed to prevent imbalances.

Employers may also be subject to legal action by the HSE or their local authority if it is found that the proper safety procedures were not being followed. 

How To Find The SWL, NWL, MBS Or MBL

Depending on the applicable terminology, the information that states safe load limits should always be found on the equipment and accessories itself. This is to allow the equipment operator or equipment wearer to review the information before operation to ensure safe practices can be followed.

For any lifting or handling equipment manufactured by Metreel, we also display the SWL on our product pages.

For instance, our Jib Cranes can boast a maximum SWL of 1,000kg depending on the model selected. Safe load limit information is also printed onto the equipment itself so that the information is constantly available to review.

Metreel – Lifting And Handling Equipment For Safer And More Efficient Workplaces

How Can Metreel Products Work For Your Business?

Have any further questions about safe lifting in your workplace? 

Metreel is based in Derbyshire and supplies lifting and handling equipment across the UK and beyond. Some of our products include jib cranes, workstation cranes, monorails, gantries, track systems hoists and balancers. 

Discover more about out products by visiting our product brochure page

Alternatively, if you’re ready to place an order or have any questions, please give us a call on 0115 932 7010 or email us at [email protected].