by | Safety, Uncategorized |

For many Americans, the physical demands of lifting heavy objects are a daily part of their working life. Unfortunately, injuries that result from this activity can present a significant health and safety issue for employees and their employers—especially in labor-intensive industries. The nature of the building material industry, for example, with its equipment, products and environment lends itself to opportunities for lifting injuries. For employees, injuries caused by improper lifting can cause acute pain and even years of chronic pain to the affected area, resulting in missed work and ongoing health issues. For employers, these injuries can cause lost productivity, problems with resource allocation and potentially serious financial implications.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 more than 360 thousand musculoskeletal disorders, from sprains and strains, were caused by overexertion in lifting. These injuries required, “13 days to recuperate before returning to work compared to 9 days for all types of injuries.” [1] Moreover, “manual materials handling is the principal source of compensable injuries in the American work force, and four out of five of these injuries will affect the lower back.”[2]

Instructing employees on proper workplace lifting techniques can help reduce their risk of injury and help them stay healthy and productive in the workplace. It’s also important to consider precautions in the design and safety of the working area when lifting. Here’s some lifting techniques from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to improve safety and, in particular, help protect employee’s backs when lifting heavy objects: [3]

  • Try out the load first. If it is too bulky or heavy, get help.
  • Avoid lifts that require stretching or bending to reach the load. Redesign the work area so objects you lift are close to the body and at waist height.
  • Don’t lift awkward objects such as long pipes or large boxes by yourself. Get help or use mechanical assists.
  • When lifting, keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • Lift slowly and carefully and don’t jerk the load around.
  • Keep the load as close to your body as possible while lifting it.
  • Don’t twist or turn your spine while carrying the load.
  • Make sure your path is clear while carrying the object. Remove obstacles that could cause you to trip.
  • When lowering the load, bend with your knees and keep your back straight

In the same resource, OSHA stresses the importance of employers taking ergonomic considerations into account in designing the workplace. For example, OSHA states, “a program to teach workers how to lift properly should be used in combination with workplace redesign that reduces the amount of lifting needed. Remember, if materials are too heavy or awkward to lift and carry safely, get help, redesign the materials to be lighter and easier to handle, or use mechanical assists such as hoists, carts, or conveyors.”

While there will always be risks involved in manually lifting objects, taking the right precautions in the work environment and instructing employees on lifting techniques can go a long way in maintaining a safe workplace. In terms of health, wellbeing and productivity, proper lifting is good for everyone at the organization. Workplace safety is a group effort, and everyone needs to have each other’s backs.

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh2.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). News & Publications – OSHA Technical Manual Section VII: Chapter 1. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/otm_vii/otm_vii_1.html

[3] Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Controlling Ergonomic Hazards. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy11/sh-22240-11/ErgoHazards.pdf

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