Some of the most common workplace injuries are often the most preventable with proper education, hazard controls, and work area setup. One of the common mechanisms of sprain and strain injuries in the workplace relates to manually lifting heavy objects. While these injuries could occur in a number of situations, material handling tasks that required workers to bend, push, pull, lift, and lower were the leading causes.
As we start the new year, let’s take time to review safe lifting techniques, understand your limits, and follow best practices to get the job done without injuring yourself.
Set Limits and Understand Risks
Preventing injury starts with setting limits. No one person should be lifting any load, product, or box greater than 50 lbs. without mechanical help or a coworker’s assistance. Failure to adhere to this limit could result in significant injury and – depending on your company’s policy – potential disciplinary action.
These are the three key risk factors associated with lifting work:
- Bending: Bending down to lift material from the floor or a low shelf requires much more physical exertion than the core strength movement between the shoulder and knuckle at waist height.
- Twisting: Torso-only movement (e.g., not moving your feet) places undue stress on the lower back and can lead to significant injury.
- Reaching Out: Load stress dramatically increases as your elbows extend out from your body to lift or lower. The closer you keep your elbows to your sides, the better.
5 Ways to Reduce the Risk Before Lifting
Following proper form reduces the chance of injury from lifting. If you need to lift an object heavier than 50 lbs., consider alternative options that put less strain on your body.
1. Eliminate the actual manual lifting of the task.
Lift trucks, tables, hoists, dollies, and elevating equipment can eliminate the need to manually handle product altogether.
2. Reduce the weight or force needed to move the load.
Reduce the load size or weight by separating the components when possible. Keep floor conditions in proper order to ensure that equipment rolls smoothly.
3. Reduce the distance from hands to body.
The closer you keep your elbows to your body, the less stress you place on your body. Move the materials you most frequently handle in front of you to reduce reaching.
4. Reduce the distance the load has to move.
Bring your material or cart up to the storage height you are pulling or putting away from. The less distance to carry, the better.
5. Keep material between shoulder and knuckle height.
Reaching above your shoulders significantly increases the risk of injury. Lifting from a lower level does the same. Try to keep items that are most frequently moved within the shoulder to knuckle/waist height.
Lifting Best Practices in the Workplace
Once you have decided how to manually lift safely, take a look at the object itself. Lift up a corner to gauge the weight if unknown. Examine the object for sharp corners, slippery spots, or other potential hazards. Evaluate the travel path you must follow to successfully complete the task. Make sure that there are no slippery surfaces or obstructions.
- Square yourself to the load, placing your feet shoulder-width apart, and center the object between them.
- While bending at the knees, lower yourself by squatting down to the object, if at floor level.
- Take time to get a firm grasp on the object before beginning the lift.
- As you begin to rise, use your legs to lift slowly. Raise your head up to straighten your spine and leverage your leg muscles rather than your back.
- Once the lift is complete, bring your elbows in as close as possible. Adjust your hand positioning if necessary to minimize one or both arms being straight out.
Now that you are standing with the load lifted and held close to your body, turn your feet (not your torso) to carry the load to its destination. Injuries can occur when a worker is twisting at the torso while lifting or lowering an object. The weight of the object and the twisting motion puts a person’s back under extreme stress.
Once you’ve reached your destination, square yourself to the destination point. Use your legs to lower yourself and begin to squat down, keeping your back straight and head up. Set the product and push forward if possible to minimize holding the product out from the body.
Lift Safely for an Injury-Free Year
When you’re lifting objects at work, it can be tempting to think you can do it all yourself. Don’t be afraid to stop and recognize your limits. Leverage material handling equipment, work with your management to redesign the work set up, and ask for help when needed. Your back will thank you! Let’s keep this year free from lifting-related injuries.
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