May 2009, Vol. 21, No.5

Safety Corner

Lifting Safely

Shawna Gill

The human body is capable of withstanding many types of forces, jolts, falls, and even electrocution, to a certain extent. However, preventing such incidents is far safer and more effective — not to mention more pleasant — than surviving them. Among the most common and preventable injuries that require some kind of medical attention are various back-pain complaints associated with improper lifting.

Each year, improper lifting leads to hundreds of thousands of sick days taken and millions of dollars in worker’s compensation claims paid. An entire health-care sector of physical therapists, surgeons, neurologists, orthopedists, chiropractors, and massage therapists has evolved to specialize in the treatment of back pain. And all the while, most of these injuries can be prevented.

Teaching and enforcing proper lifting techniques should be a top priority of every supervisor, manager, and employee.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires safety courses on reducing preventable workplace injuries. Industries with multiple hazardous considerations,

Genetics play a large role in determining how our bodies react to the stresses of lifting. A look at your family tree can be useful to determine one’s risk. Thankfully, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and practicing proper body position during exertion will help maximize genetic potential.

such as the wastewater industry, tend to center these training opportunities on chemical, fire, electrical, and machinery hazards, and rightly so. However, adding lifting practices to this list, especially when it’s a common aspect of the job, can help reduce injuries.

Unfortunately, most people are not well-versed in how to avoid lifting injuries or do not make it a habit to protect themselves. Regular training, discussion, and review of body mechanics and workplace lifting requirements should be emphasized to prevent unnecessary back injuries.

A few basic rules easily can be incorporated into both the workplace and private life to protect your back:
  • Most importantly, assess the load to determine if you can lift and hold its weight and size safely and properly.
  • Ask for assistance or use a hand truck to move large or heavy items.
  • Keep your upper body straight (face and body facing forward) or neutral at all times when lifting or carrying a load.
  • Squat or bend at the knees to grab or collect the article, use your legs to lift the weight, and squat to put it down.
  • Hold the item as close to your body as possible when lifting, carrying, and putting it down.
  • Do not bend at the waist to pick up or put down any item, no matter how small.

While these rules are a good starting point, a more complete training course should be offered. Finding and implementing a course is not too difficult. The Internet abounds with companies that sell books, videos, and posters to remind everyone to protect themselves. Some courses are industry-specific, and many tout they are OSHA-compliant, which is certainly a priority.

A course should include consideration of all aspects of the job. For example, the course should cover bending safely, how to determine the weight and risks associated with lifting a particular object, and how to carry an object normally, as well as when turning, walking up stairs, or climbing a ladder. Additional subject criteria should include mechanical aids, such as hand trucks, or how past back injuries can increase lifting risks. Each employee should develop a personal list of risk considerations and use training to find techniques to prevent injury.

Encouraging safe habits in the workplace will most certainly result in safer practices during free time, reduction in lost work time, and lower associated costs for both employers and employees.

More Lifting Information on the Web

The Web sites listed below provide more in-depth information on the importance of proper lifting techniques, as well as practical advice.

© 2009 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.




Shawna Gill is a chiropractor and chief executive officer of Inc. (Beaverton, Ore.).