Back injuries are a multi-billion-dollar problem. But unsafe lifting practices also put workers at risk of wrist and elbow injuries, cuts and burns, and hand traumas.
Both employers and employees suffer when somebody is injured on the job. Thankfully, all it takes to lower the number of heavy lifting injuries is proper lifting techniques and using the right safety gear.
Proper Lifting Technique
Proper lifting techniques aren’t just an extra precaution; they’re necessary to prevent injury. It’s important to remember that not every injury occurs in an instant. Some result from repeated strain. So, just because you lifted absent mindedly dozens of times in the past doesn't mean you'll come out of the next lift unharmed.
OSHA advises that individuals should not lift more than 50 pounds. Heavier loads and awkward items should be handled by multiple people or using mechanical methods such as forklifts and hand trucks. When you do lift on your own, make sure you use proper lifting techniques:
- Start with support: face the item you intend to lift, keep your feet shoulder-width apart with one foot slightly ahead of the other
- Squat: bend only at the hips and knees to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your back. If it helps, try a half kneel (one knee on the floor and the other in front of you at a 90° angle)
- Good posture: look forward and keep your back straight, chest out, and shoulders back to keep your spine aligned with a slight curve to your lower back
- Lift slowly: using your legs, stand without twisting. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body
- Keep it in the power zone: hold the item near you, between your mid-chest and mid-thigh. Never lift heavy items above shoulder level
- Baby steps: take small steps and let your feet guide you
- Hips don't lie: if you need to change directions, keep your shoulders in line with your hips and let your hips lead the way
- Don't drop it: using only your hips and knees again, put the item down slowly
To make lifting easier and safer, break down larger bundles to more manageable sizes and try to store heavier items at that power zone level whenever possible. Pay attention to the signals your body is sending. Those fatigued muscles are a sign that you need to take a break and let them recover.
Supportive Safety Equipment Options
Even when you're using proper lifting techniques, there's still a possibility of injury. This is especially so if you've been injured before, which makes you susceptible to re-injury.
When you're preparing to lift heavy and awkward equipment, you might need to do more than just keep your knees and shoulders where they should be. You might also need to use the right equipment.
Back Support Belts
Back support belts help improve your lifting posture, but they also give added support for those who need it most. When used in conjunction with sound lifting techniques, support belts can reduce the rate of injury.
And they're not just for movers and warehouse workers. Back support belts been shown to reduce lower back injuries in nursing home and grocery store employees.
Material that's been nicely packaged up often looks safe, but there could still be hazards that aren't immediately noticeable. Nails and splinters in wooden crates can lead to unpleasant injuries. And the shock of something piercing your skin could heighten the risks by causing you to drop what you're carrying.
If the box you're lifting contains toxic materials that have leaked from their containers, you don't want to find out by getting it on your skin when you lift it up. Protective gloves will protect you from the cuts, burns, and punctures from the things you're lifting.
Consider what sweaty palms can do when you're trying to lug a large load across the factory floor. Protective gloves can help here, too. Not only will the exterior stay dry but those with grip patterns will give you a firmer hold (see Selecting the Right PPE for Women for advice on selecting gloves for all your employees).
Remember the part about half-kneeling if it helps? Knee pads are a great way to preserve your knees and add a little extra support to the load-bearing joints.
None of these items can totally eliminate the possibility of injury. But they can lower the risk and even help prevent non-muscular injuries associated with lifting tasks.
Extra Credit Options
There are dozens of ways to be injured in any workplace, but accidents related to lifting and carrying heavier loads are a major contributor. Of course, you can’t account for every possible hazard or circumstance on a jobsite, but it’s important to work with what you can control.
Hand trucks, forklifts, and aerial lifts are just some of the tools available to alleviate the stress of lifting and bearing heavier loads. Whenever possible, consider alternatives to unassisted lifting.
Not every package comes with functional handles. Try to use boxes and containers with handles whenever possible. You can even look for suction handles that can be attached and then detached and reused.
Clear the Way
Clean up all hazards from the floor, move tables and chairs out of the way, and clean up messes as soon as they happen to avoid running into other problems on the floor.
Accidents happen but you can prevent many of them and limit the damage of those that do occur by observing proper lifting techniques, using personal protective equipment, and considering alternative methods for transporting heavy items. There’s no reason we can’t lessen the impact of lifting-related injuries in the workplace. All it takes is a few small changes.