Many jobs require frequent lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, lowering, and raising materials by hand. Most back injuries are the result of improper lifting techniques. Proper lifting is critical to back safety, but just as important is proper planning. The following tips can help to avoid back injury.
- The best way to prevent back injuries is to avoid lifting altogether. If you can not avoid lifting, use dollies, lifts, and other equipment to help move heavy objects.
- Plan the lift. Make certain there is adequate space and clear aisles. Check for spills, loose rugs, extension cords, and other hazards that may be in your path. Also, plan for a place to set the load down.
- Test the weight of the load by moving one of the corners before you lift.
- Prepare to lift by making sure you have good footing and balance. Place your feet close to the load. Your feet should be far enough apart (approximately shoulder-width) to give yourself a balanced and stable base. Face the direction that you intend to move.
- Bend your knees. When lifting from a low level, do not bend over at the waist. Keep your back straight and head up whether lifting or putting down the load.
- Grasp the load securely with the palms of your hands. Handles or cut outs will make the load easier to lift.
- Lift with the load close to your body. The closer the load is to the spine, the less force it exerts on the back. Tightening your stomach muscles while lifting will give support to the spine. Use your leg muscles to lift the load. Take your time and make sure the lifting motion is smooth rather than jerky and sudden.
- Remember to use the same techniques when putting the load down.
- When moving an object on rollers, always push and not pull. Pushing puts less strain on the back and is safer if the load tips.
Good technique is not enough.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to aching, sharp pain, tingling, hot feeling, unusual tightness, and unusual muscle weakness, and fatigue.
- If you have a lot of lifting to do during the day, try not to do it all at once. Alternate lifting tasks with lighter work to give your body a chance to recover.
- Keep in good physical condition. Keeping your back strong, stretched, and healthy is a good preventative measure. Good posture and mobile joints can prevent certain injuries.
- Find a better way. Use mechanical help whenever possible to avoid heavy loads, excessive twisting, repetitive motions, and bulky loads.
- Uneven surfaces present greater risk for injury. Avoid if possible.
- Place the load on racks or pallets when storing temporarily so that they will be easier to pick up later.
All lifts are not created equal.
- Reaching overhead – Use a step stool or ladder. Slide the load as close to the body as possible and then let the legs and arms do the work.
- Over-sized or heavy loads – Ask for additional help and work as a team. Lift at the same time. Keep the load level when carrying and move smoothly together.
- Long objects – Carry lumber, pipe, and other long objects over the shoulder. Be careful the ends don’t hit anyone or anything.
- Bags and sacks – Assume the safe lifting position. Grasp the load at the opposite top and bottom corners. Power the body up with the legs and use the arms to raise the load.