Back strains and injuries are among the most common-and avoidable-of all workplace accidents. This collection of tips will help you avoid this painful and costly injury.
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In today's workplaces, most heavy items are lifted using mechanical devices or forklifts. But sometimes, manually lifting a heavy item is the only way to get the job done. The downfall is that you or your employees may be injured if proper lifting techniques aren't used.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, each year more than 360,000 workers experience an overexertion injury while lifting. The median of lost work time was six days. Not only does this cause an injured and unhappy employees, also add up the costs of lost production time, worker's compensation and medical bills. These unfortunate situations can often be avoided if employees follow proper lifting techniques.

Proper lifting techniques

Most lifting injuries are preventable when employees are properly trained in lifting and understand proper lifting techniques. There are six basic steps to preventing lifting injuries:

  1. Size it up. Before lifting the object, lift a corner to test its weight. Also, determine how you're going to hold the object. If it's awkward or clumsy, seek the help of a coworker or break down the load into smaller and more manageable loads.
  2. Assess your path. You don't want to trip on anything while you're carrying the object. Before setting out, walk along your planned route and remove anything that could get in your way.
  3. Bend the knees. We've all heard it before, "Lift with your legs, not your back." This is probably the best advice when it comes to lifting heavy objects. When lifting an object:
    • Position your feet close to the object and center yourself beside the object
    • Bend your knees and get a good hold on what you're lifting
    • Straighten your legs and lift the object smoothly
    • Let your legs, not your back, do the work
  4. No twisting or turning. While carrying the object, avoid twisting or turning suddenly. Sudden movements can injure your back or cause you to lose your balance.
  5. Placing the load. Lower the load with your legs and don't let go of it until it is on the ground.
  6. Push, don't pull. Push the load —don't pull it —whenever possible.

Other options

There are other options if you don't want employees to lift heavy items. Carts, hoists, dollies, conveyors and lifts should be used whenever possible to minimize employee lifting. You may even adopt stringent policies regarding lifting. For example, you could prohibit employees from lifting loads greater than 50 pounds, or require all loads to be lifted with another employee.

Enforcement

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't have specific requirements covering safe lifting, OSHA may cite employers with employees that have excessive back problems under the General Duty Clause (Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 5). OSHA uses a Lifting Guide issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to enforce the General Duty Clause requiring employers to provide a hazard-free workplace. The NIOSH guide provides a formula for determining the recommended maximum weight that may be lifted under specific lift conditions. The NIOSH lifting formula provides a way to calculate the relative difficulty of a potential lift. Employers can then take measures to adjust the weight, provide lifting aids, or amend the workflow so that a given lift remains within the guidelines. You can get a copy of the NIOSH lifting guide from your local or regional OSHA office http://www.osha.gov/html/RAmap.html.

For a listing of OSHA's NIOSH resources for ergonomics and musculoskeletal disorders, refer to http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/resources.html#niosh_resources.