Faculty & Staff

Safe Lifting Tips

Many jobs require frequent lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, lowering and raising materials by hand. These jobs tasks are often referred to as manual material handling. The human body is not designed to lift heavy loads. The amount of weight you lift and the way you carry and move it play a big role in preventing a back injury. The following tips can help make manual material handling safer.


  • Warm up
    Athletes warm up before a workout to reduce the risk of injury. You should warm up your muscles to meet the demands of the physical stress of lifting and manual material handling. Warm up to reduce the likelihood of pulling, straining or cramping a part of your body.

  • "Think Before You Lift"


    Test the load.

    Use a dolly.

    Plan the lift by testing the weight of what you are preparing to lift. Know where you are going before you lift and ask for help if the load is too heavy or awkwardly shaped. Use a dolly or split the load into smaller loads to lighten the load.

  • Position your feet


    Unsafe: Get closer to the load

    Safer : Close to load with feet apart

    Get close to the load you plan to lift. Place your feet wide apart giving yourself a balanced and stable base. Face the direction you intend to move.

  • Position your body


    Unsafe: Do not bend at waist

    Safer: Bend hips and knees

    Lifting from the floor is hard on your low back. When lifting the load from a low level, do not bend over at the waist. Bend your hips and knees and keep the curves in your back aligned.


    Unsafe: Don't lift over shoulders

    Safer: Place item on lower shelf

    Lifting above your shoulders is hard on your arms and back. If possible, reduce the amount of weight being lifted by removing some of the contents of the box or container. Try using a step stool or ladder to get closer to the target area, instead of lifting above your shoulders. If possible, place the item on a lower shelf.


    Unsafe: Don't bend at waist

    Safer: Stoop down on one knee

    Safer: Get a good grip before standing up

    You can also lower your body down on one knee and glide the object up into your body to get a good grip before pushing your body upward.

  • Get a firm grip


    Grip the load

    Rest the load midway

    Use a step ladder

    Grip the load securely and try to keep your arms within the boundary formed by your legs. This positioning helps keep the load close to the body. For a long lift, such as floor to shoulder height, consider resting the load mid-way on a table or bench to change your grip.

  • Lift smoothly


    Unsafe: Do not bend at waist

    Safer: Lift with your legs

    Keep your back straight, tighten your stomach muscles and lift using your leg muscles. Take your time. Make the lifting motion smooth rather than sudden and jerky.


    Spread your legs and tighten your stomach muscles

    If you must lift the load above your shoulders, spread your feet apart with one in front of the other. Keep your elbows close to your body, tighten your stomach muscles and do not arch your low back as you lift above your shoulders.


  • Move your feet


    Unsafe: Don't twist while lifting

    Safer: Turn your feet and shoulders

    Avoid twisting as you lift. The low back is not designed to twist and twisting while lifting increases the strain on your back. Instead, turn your shoulders and feet and keep the load in front of you at all times.

  • Carrying the load


    Safer: Keep the load close to your body

    Safer: Balance the load

    Keep the load as close to your body as possible. If you are carrying two objects of the same weight (e.g. cans of paint) carrying one in each hand will help balance the load, as long as the weight is reasonable. Use a hand truck or other assistive device if transporting the load for a distance.


  • Setting the load down


    Unsafe: Don't bend at waist

    Safer: Bend your legs

    Safer: Slide the load down from one knee

    Set the load down using your leg muscles. Do not bend over at your waist. Slide the load into position, if necessary.

  • Pushing and pulling the load


    Unsafe: Push instead of pull

    Safer: Pushing is easier than pulling

    Pushing is generally easier on your back than pulling. If you must pull, keep the cart or container at your side to avoid extending your arm behind you and arching your low back.

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