How to lift heavy objects safely
Back injuries are one of the leading causes of disability, affecting approximately 1 million people each year, many as a result of not knowing how to lift heavy objects.
The following tips on how to lift heavy objects will help you anticipate potential lifting hazards and train your employees to lift and carry heavy objects safely.
Stretching before a long work day is always a good idea. Many large contracting companies now require all tradesmen on their projects to perform a few minutes of simple stretching exercises each day before work begins on the site.
The few minutes of unproductive time is a small price to pay, compared to the lost time and cost resulting from personal injuries on the work site.
Before lifting, check for tags on the object that will tell you what it weighs. If you wear gloves, make sure they fit properly, and do not reduce your grip.
Position your feet at least shoulder width apart, and face the direction of the lift. Keeping your feet too close together gives you poor balance and poor leverage as you lift.
Be sure to wear proper footwear that prevents slipping and make sure you have a clear solid pathway. A sudden slip or trip can exert tremendous pressure on your lower back and increase the likelihood of an injury. Have a partner assist you if the load you are carrying obstructs your view of the path.
How to lift heavy objects
To prevent undue strain on your lower back, it is vital that you know techniques for how to lift heavy objects safely. Bend at the knees, while keeping your upper body as vertical as possible, then lift with your legs, not your back or upper body.
The most common cause of back injury is bending at the waist and keeping legs straight, which increases the force exerted on the lower back dramatically.
Lift only as much as you can safely handle and keep the lift in your “power zone” (above the knees, below the shoulders and as close to your body as possible.) A load of 80 pounds or more should never be lifted more than 12 inches vertically. Always try to stage your load in a way that prevents you from having to lift it from a level below your knees or higher than your shoulders.
When lifting heavy objects, never twist or rotate your upper body. Instead, pivot your feet to change direction. Avoid clinching your neck and upper back during the lift. This can force your vertebrae together and cause pain and injury.
Use extra caution if the object you are lifting is unstable. A sudden shift of weight distribution puts additional stress on your back. It may be necessary to repackage the item to reduce the possibility of a shift of weight during the lift or to reduce the overall weight of the object. Get a good grip, use both hands whenever possible and avoid jerking motions. Lift the load slowly and evenly.
If any of these precautions are impossible, get help to make the lift. Waiting a few minutes for assistance is a much wiser use of resources than being injured needlessly.
Back belts are not recognized by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) as effective engineering controls to prevent back injury. The effectiveness of back belts in the prevention of low back injuries has not been proven in the work environment.
More ways to prevent injury when lifting
Back injuries can be the result of a single traumatic event, or they can develop gradually as a result of “microtrauma.” Micro-trauma are small injuries that occur during repetitive activity but aren’t severe enough to cause pain immediately. Ultimately they result in a more severe back injury. In other words, you could be injuring your back and not know it.
Minimize the chance of injuries by using lift-assist devices or material-handling equipment. Use two or more people to make the lift, where appropriate. If two people are carrying the same object, they should try to face the same direction in which the object is being carried. If more that two people are involved in a lift or moving an object, one of them should give signals and directions to the others.
Allow short breaks between lifting activities or every hour, and vary worker’s tasks through the day, so they aren’t using and fatiguing the same muscles for an extended period of time.
Provide continuous training and education on safe work practices, hazards and controls. See the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Technical Manual for Back Disorders and Injuries for additional information, including required record keeping and procedures. Visit OSHA’s website or call (877) 702-7473.
—By Bruce Webb, general contractor