More than one million workers suffer back injuries every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In many cases, the cause of these injuries can be traced to the improper lifting of heavy objects.
Learning proper methods of lifting and handling heavy objects can protect against injury and make your work easier. Although these methods might take some time to get used to, over time, safe lifting techniques will become second nature.
Safe Lifting Guidelines
Before you lift an object ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I safely lift this object alone?
- Is the load too big or too awkward?
- Does the load have good handles or grips?
- Is there anything to obstruct proper lifting?
- Could the contents of the load shift while being lifted?
- Is there enough space for easy movement?
When lifting, use the following techniques to protect yourself from injury:
- Maintain good balance. Spread your feet at least shoulder width apart. Distribute weight evenly throughout the soles of both feet and keep your feet firmly planted.
- Use your abdominal muscles. Tightening these muscles before starting the lift reduces stress on the back.
- Bend from your knees. Bending from the knees ensures that weight comes first into the thighs and hips rather than the spine. Don’t lift with your knees locked because the hamstrings will tighten and lock the pelvis into an unbalanced position. Don’t bend from the waist as this places tremendous pressure on the back. Keep the back straight, but not vertical.
- Tuck in your chin. Tucking your chin will help keep your back straight.
- Grip with your palms, not your fingers. This grip is much more secure than using just your fingers.
- Use your body weight to start the load moving, then lift by pushing up with the legs. Using your legs makes full use of the strongest muscles in your body.
- Keep the arms and elbows close to the body while lifting to avoid strain on your upper back.
- Carry the load close to your body. Use your feet to change direction.
- Watch where you are going!
- To lower the object, bend the knees. Don’t stoop. Place the load on a bench or shelf and push into position. Make sure your hands and feet are clear when placing the load.
Practice the above steps when lifting anything — even a relatively light object.
If the weight, size, or shape of an object is too much for one person to lift, ask for help. Ideally, workers should be approximately the same size for team lifting. Only one lifter needs to be responsible for control of the action to ensure proper coordination. If one worker lifts too soon, shifts the load, or lowers it improperly, the risk of injury increases.