Preventing Back Injuries
Many jobs require frequent lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, lowering and raising materials by hand. These job tasks are often referred to as manual materials handling.
Staff who lift or perform other materials handling tasks may be at risk for back or other injuries. These injuries may be prevented by redesigning jobs and practicing safe lifting.
Redesigning jobs and job tasks
To prevent back injuries on the job, consider these questions when assessing jobs and job tasks.
- Is the work flow well organized to reduce repeated, unnecessary handling of materials?
Poor planning of the work flow may result in needless and repeated handling of the same materials. Materials may be stored in one place, moved to another, stored again, moved again, etc. Develop a work flow plan that reduces the number of times materials need to be handled to reduce the risk of injury.
- Could mechanical aids be used?
Mechanical aids, such as hand carts or dollies, lower the risk of injury by reducing the physical effort required to handle heavy materials. Consider whether lift tables, step stools, conveyors, chutes, or other mechanical aids could be used to lift, move, or dispose of materials. Be sure staff are trained in the correct use of mechanical aids.
- Are there ways to lighten the load? Consider these suggestions:
o Decrease the weight to acceptable limits.
o Assign two people to lift the load.
o Split the load into two or more containers.
o Use lighter weight containers.
o Change the way the material is moved. For example, lowering material is easier than lifting it; pulling easier than carrying; pushing easier than pulling.
o Change the work layout to reduce the travel distances for carrying, pushing, or pulling.
o Store heavy items between knee and shoulder height so loads don't need to be lifted from the floor or above shoulder height.
o Allow for more rest breaks for repetitive manual material handling tasks.
o Reduce staff fatigue by alternating heavy and lighter job tasks.
- Can the job task be designed to reduce awkward postures, such as bending and twisting?
o Locate heavy or frequently moved materials between knee and shoulder height so loads don't need to be lifted from the floor or above shoulder height.
o Eliminate deep shelves to avoid long reaches and bending.
o Ensure there is sufficient space for the task.
o Ensure there is clear and easy access to the load.
o Use containers with handles.
o Use rigid containers.
Adapted from Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health Back Injury Prevention website.
How to lift safely
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.
See How To Lift Safely for tips tips on preventing injury when lifting.
Stretches for people who lift
Strengthening and stretching routines are important in order for you to warm up before you start work in a job that requires lifting or other manual materials handling tasks. Consult with your health care provider before starting a stretching program if you have had recent surgery, muscle or joint problems.
See Strengthening and Stretching Excercises For People Who Lift for detailed instructions.
The Back Talk video was made in partnership with University Health Services Physical Therapy and walks you through the stretching and strenghthening exercises that increase flexibility and strength for the low back and legs. The highlighted exercises are the same ones practiced in the Back Talk workshop. The Back Talk handout provides more indepth information on each exercise and should be used in conjunction with the video. Better yet, sign up to take the workshop and learn new ways of performing daily activities with less stress to your back.
Learn the basics of performing daily activities with less stress to your back. Practice useful stretching and strengthening exercises. Wear comfortable clothing to this two-session workshop offered once a semester. Enroll on our Workshops page.
Back Safety (Smart Body Management Online Training)
Learn how to lift and move safely with less stress to your back.
Enroll on our Workshops page.
Worksite evaluations may be scheduled to assess ergonomic hazards in your department for jobs that involve heavy lifting or other manual materials handling. Supervisors or Department Safety Coordinators can request ergonomic evaluations in non-computer environments by calling (510) 643-2540.
Lifting/Back Safety Training
Specialized training can be tailored to the specific ergonomic hazards in your department for jobs that involve heavy lifting and other manual materials handling tasks. Supervisors and Department Safety Coordinators can request training which will include a pre-training walkthrough and consultation by calling (510) 643-2540.
Smooth Moves: Safer Ways to Move Your Office
Moving? Our 45-minute workshop will help staff learn safer ways to pack, purge files, and move with less chance of injury. To schedule your session, call (510) 643-2540.