• Since 1990, the philosophy of 'safe lifting' has become unacceptable in clinical practice and it is now recommended that nurses do not manually lift patients at all. • A comprehensive moving/handling assessment should be undertaken and should include assessment of the handler's capability as well as the load (patient), task and environment. • This exploratory study focuses on assessment of the load, aiming to identify the patient variables nurses assess when planning moving/handling requirements of adult patients. • Patient variables were identified from a literature review and provided the base for a semistructured postal questionnaire. • Questionnaire responses were subjected to a Principal Component Factor analysis resulting in extrapolation of 5 factors accounting for the majority of variability in the data. • In addition, a further 33 new patient variables were reported to be important in this type of assessment. • Issues for further investigation are highlighted and implications for teaching moving/handling risk assessment are drawn from the findings.