At virtually any workplace involving physical labor, workers will need to know the proper lifting techniques so as not to harm their backs, legs, or other body parts. Just because a worker is strong enough to pick up an object, that does not mean that the act cannot result in injury. Luckily, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a set list of techniques for making lifting tasks more manageable; however, adherence to these guidelines isn’t always perfect. Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2001 indicate that heavy lifting is in fact one of the leading causes of workplace injury. The statistics revealed that approximately 36 percent of injuries leading to missed work days were the result of shoulder and back injuries. The most significant contributing factors in such injuries were overexertion and cumulative trauma, which occur from not employing the proper techniques for heavy lifting.
While heavy lifting will always be physically impactful, prudent precautions and proper technique can ease the resulting strain on the body and help to prevent common injuries such as back sprains, muscle pulls, and injuries to the spine, elbow, and wrist. OSHA has issued a series of detailed recommendations to provide guidance for safe lifting techniques. Where such actions are necessary, following some of these simple tips may be a crucial step in preventing potentially debilitating injuries.
Safe lifting starts with the proper ergonomic techniques, according to OSHA. As a rule of thumb, it is best for workers to lift with their legs, although this may vary depending on the circumstance. Workers should do their best to pick up objects within their “power zone,” which may be defined as an area close to the body, between the worker’s mid-thigh and mid-chest. Workers should avoid stretching beyond the power “zone.” For instance, workers starting a lift below mid-thigh height put unnecessary stress on the legs, knees, and back. Meanwhile, completing a lift above shoulder-height can strain the upper back, arms, and shoulders. To properly lift an item from a lower location, workers should move the object close to their body and lift with their legs as a safety technique. OSHA recommends that workers should keep their bodies straight and avoid any awkward twisting while lifting heavy objects. It is also useful for workers to keep their elbows close to their sides in order to keep the heavy load as close to their bodies as possible. It may also be preferable for workers to bend at the waist instead of the knees to keep the load close.
Placement of Objects
Another important technique in properly lifting items begins with how the goods are stored. Any steps that minimize bending and reaching reduce strain on the back and other muscles involved with lifting. It is prudent for workers to store heavy objects on shelves and tables that are at least waist-height, to make them easier to access. Objects that will be frequently moved or retrieved should be placed at “power height” for optimal lifting convenience, according to OSHA’s technique guidelines.
Avoid Sustained or Repeated Exertion
Many lifting-related injuries are not the result of a single action performed without the proper OSHA-recommended techniques, but rather developed in response to regular or sustained exertion. Holding items for a long time in a particular position enhances the risk of injury as muscles are sapped of nutrients and waste products build up internally. Frequent, repeated exertion, such as yanking wire, fatigues muscles by not allowing recovery time. Workers can avoid these hazards by working in teams and rotating tasks so that no one worker is stuck doing the same thing for too long. Workers can also mount certain heavy items, such as fixtures, to avoid having to hold them excessively.
Whether your team engages in heavy lifting every day, or just on random occasions, teaching them the proper techniques according to OSHA can help everyone prevent unnecessary injuries on the job.