6 ways to prevent workplace lifting injuries

Injuries caused by overexertion during manual lifting activities continue to be a leading occupational health and safety issue.

Although no approach totally eliminates injuries caused by lifting, an effective training program, along with ergonomically-designed work tasks and equipment, will help to prevent injuries.

No specific OSHA standards address safe manual lifting practices. However, OSHA is able to cite employers under its general duty clause requiring employers to provide a workplace that is free of recognized hazards (Section 5(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970).

OSHA can reference a lifting guide issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to enforce the general duty clause. The NIOSH guide provides a formula for determining the recommended maximum weight that may be lifted under specific lift conditions. 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.

Here are some training elements to help you address lifting hazards and reduce the chance of injuries:

1. Discuss the number of work-related injuries due to lifting

It’s pretty common to have to lift items at work. Manual lifting, however, is a source of many injuries.

Overexertion while lifting can result in strains, sprains, torn ligaments or muscles, and ruptured or slipped disks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 94,420 workers in private industry suffered injuries due to overexertion while lifting during 2015. These injuries were serious enough to require days away from work.

In comparison, falls to a lower level (which many people consider to be more hazardous than lifting) caused 50,490 injuries during 2015.

2. Outline some factors that contribute to the risk of injury

The weight of the load is obviously a factor in whether or not material can be lifted safely, Other lift factors include:


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  • The force needed to perform the lift
  • The frequency of lifting
  • The duration of lifting activities
  • Postures and body motions during the lift

Concerning the force needed to perform the lift, there may be increased risk for injury if:

  • The lift involves pinching to hold the object
  • Heavy lifting is done with one hand
  • Very heavy items are lifted without the assistance of a mechanical device
  • Heavy items are lifted while bending over, reaching above shoulder height, or twisting

The following postures and motions can contribute to the risk, as well:

  • Bending or twisting the back while lifting or holding heavy items
  • Lifting objects out of, or putting them into, cramped spaces
  • Leaning, bending forward, kneeling or squatting during lifting activities
  • Lifting or carrying materials with the hands below the waist, above the shoulders, or to the sides of the body
  • Carrying or holding lifted materials with the arms or hands in the same position for long periods of time without changing positions or resting

Repetitive lifting for an extended period without a break can add to the risk. Individual variables such as age, sex, body size, state of health, and general physical fitness also influence your risk of injury.

3. Describe how engineering controls reduce the risk.

The most effective way to prevent injury is to redesign the work environment and work tasks to reduce lifting hazards. These engineering, administrative and workplace controls take a close look at lifting jobs and redesign them so they are safer.

Engineering controls are used to redesign a job so employees do less-strenuous manual lifting. They often involve the use of mechanical lifting equipment.

Engineering controls include:

  • Reducing load weight or size
  • Adding handles to material packaging so that workers can get a strong, comfortable grip
  • Adjusting the work environment so workers can keep loads close to the body and between shoulder and knee height, without having to twist
  • Installing mechanical lifting aids and material handling equipment (conveyors, slides, chutes, hoists, adjustable lift tables, and hand trucks)

4. Introduce the use of administrative and work-practice controls

Implementing administrative and work-practice controls involves carefully selecting and training workers so they know how to safely perform lifting tasks.

Administrative and work-practice controls include:

  • Conducting medical monitoring of employee strength/lifting capabilities
  • Setting weight, size, and frequency limits on manual lifting tasks
  • Providing physical conditioning for employees
  • Training employees to use proper lifting techniques
  • Determining the need for using two-person lift teams when mechanical lifting aids are not available

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5. Explain how the NIOSH lifting equation helps determine safe lifting tasks

Employers can analyze the hazards of a lifting job. In 1994, NIOSH issued a revised lifting equation to help determine a recommended weight limit for specific lifting conditions. The equation is:

RWL = LC x HM x VM x DM x AM x FM x CM

The recommended weight limit (RWL) is determined by the load constant (LC) and the six multipliers. The RWL value is the maximum weight that should be lifted under the six conditions of the lift. If the RWL is exceeded, the risk of injury should be reduced by changing work practices or job design.

The LC, load constant, is equal to 51 pounds.

The other multipliers in the equation consider other lifting factors such as the horizontal distance and vertical height the object is moved, the total distance moved, the amount of twisting involved, the number of lifts, and the strength of the grip on the load. When one if these factors is less than ideal, the value of the multiplier for that factor in the equation is equal to a number less than one.

Depending on these multipliers, the RWL may decrease to less than 51 pounds. In other words, when conditions are less than optimal, the amount of weight that can safely be lifted is reduced; the RWL value will never exceed 51 pounds.

(Use the “Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation,” available at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/94-110, to help you explain how the lifting equation can analyze lifting jobs in your workplace.)

6. Demonstrate the procedures for safe lifting

Use these guidelines every time you must do manual lifting:

  • Size up the load before you lift. If you don’t know the load’s weight, test it by moving one of the corners. Split up large loads into smaller units. If it’s heavy, an awkward shape, or if you can’t get a good grip, use a mechanical lifting aid, or get help from another worker. When in doubt, don’t lift alone!
  • Plan ahead. Make sure you have a clear path to carry the load, and a place to set it down, before you begin the lift.
  • Place your feet close to the object and center yourself in front of the load.
  • Bend your knees to allow your stronger leg muscles to lift the load.
    Get a good grip.
  • Lift straight up, keeping the load close to your body. Let your legs do the work. If you are lifting with a partner, use a signal so you both lift at the same time.
  • Do not twist or turn your body once you have made the lift. Initiate turns by moving your feet, not by twisting your shoulders and hips.
  • If you start to lose your grip, set down the load.
  • Set the load down properly. Lower the load into place by bending your knees. Again, if you are working with a partner, set down the load at the same time.

Source : Bizjournal

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