Overexertion causes 28% of lost workday injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics*. Fortunately, you can prevent these injuries by understanding and using safe lifting techniques.
The key to safe lifting is to keep your back in balance. If you bend at your waist and extend your upper body to lift an object, for example, you upset your back's normal alignment and your center of balance. This forces your spine to support the weight of your body and the weight of the object. This situation is called "overload." You can avoid overloading our back by bending your knees and keeping the load as close to your body as possible.
This keeps your back in proper alignment and lets the stronger muscles in your legs do the actual lifting. You also do not have to extend your upper body, which helps you to maintain your balance
To protect yourself from a painful and potentially disabling injury, remember to practice the following lifting techniques:
- Test the load
Prior to lifting an object, test the weight of the object by lifting a corner. If the object is too heavy or bulky, get help from a fellow co-worker or use a mechanical device, such as a hoist or cart. You should also inspect the object for any slivers, nails, sharp edges, or slippery conditions.
- Plan the move
Check your path of travel to make sure that it's clear of any obstacles and there are no hazards in your path of travel, such as spilled water or oil. Remove any obstacles or hazards before picking up the object.
- Use a wide, balanced stance with one foot ahead of the other
A solid base of support reduces the likelihood of slipping and jerking movements.
- Grip the load firmly
This prevents the object from suddenly slipping out of your hands. You may need to use gloves or lifting handles if the load is too difficult to grasp.
- Bend your knees
This is the single most important rules to follow. When you bend your knees instead of your waist, the forces on your back are more evenly distributed. This also lets the strong muscles in your thighs do the lifting.
- Bring the object as close to your body as possible
Keeping the load close to your body reduces the force it exerts on your back.
- Tighten your stomach muscles as the lift begins
This allows your stomach muscles to help support your back as you lift.
- Keep your head and shoulders upright
This helps to keep the normal inward curve in your lower back.
- Lift with your legs
Using the strength of your legs to lift the object decreases the stress on your lower back.
- Set the load down carefully
Slowly lower the object by bending your knees and keeping your back upright. Don't let go of the object suddenly.
Reaching into a bin or container to lift an object makes the standard ten-step lifting procedure next to impossible. In these situation, you should practice the following techniques:
- Stand with your feet at least shoulder distance apart.
- Slightly bend your knees.
- Start to squat, bending your hips and knees. Not your waist. This movement is the same one you make when you lower your leg and hip muscles.
- Slide the load as close to your body as possible and raise yourself using your leg and hip muscles.
- Tighten your stomach muscles as you lift, and, if possible, brace your knees against the side of the bin or container for additional support.
- Get help if the load is more than moderately heavy.
Loads that are above shoulder height can also be difficult to lift. If you must lift an object that's above shoulder-level, use a stepstool or ladder to avoid over-reaching. Test the weight of the object by pushing up on the load. If the object is under 25 pounds, slide it towards you and hug the load close to you body as you descend. If possible, hand the object down to a co-worker before descending the ladder or stool.
Tips to Remember
- Whenever possible, use the standard ten-step procedure to lift an object.
- Avoid extending your upper body over the load.
- Lift with your legs, not your back.
- Keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.
- If a load is too heavy or awkward to lift, use a mechanical device or get help from a co-worker.
- Always push (rather than pull) the load.
- Chance awkward or static posture positions, such as kneeling, standing, or sitting for a prolonged time, to reduce the pressure on your back.
- Never twist your body while lifting. Move or pivot your feet to change direction.
- Strengthen your back and abdominal muscles by performing back exercises.
- Maintain your ideal weight.
*Accident Facts. 2008 Edition Published by the National Safety Council. Safely Lifting Techniques by Jeff Conway, CGSO,BSRM, Administration.