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Workplace Back Safety and Lifting Techniques

Whether at home or work, lifting is part of our daily movements. Unfortunately, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

You can dramatically reduce the risk of back injuries by teaching proper lifting techniques and modifying tasks to eliminate or reduce the physical demands of lifting. 

Eliminate or Reduce Manual Lifting 

The safest lift is one an employee never has to make. When possible, eliminate the need to lift items at all. 

  • Use mechanical lifting devices (e.g., hoists or lift tables), especially for heavy loads
  • Use material handling devices (e.g., carts or dollies) to transport materials
  • Store manually lifted items off the floor, with heavy objects stored above knee height but less than shoulder height
  • Use smaller totes or bins, limiting weight to 25 lbs. or less
  • Design tasks to avoid reaching, twisting and lifting with arms extended

Posture Matters 

  • Keep your back straight by facing forward with your head up
  • Avoid lifting and setting down a load with your head down or with an arched back, which places extra strain on your lower back
  • Lift in the power zone—near waist level with your hands close to your body—whenever possible
  • Move your feet instead of twisting when turning with a load

Proper Lifting Techniques 

  • Approach the corner of the load with a wide, staggered stance for better balance and power
  • Test the weight of the load (e.g., lift a corner of the load)
  • Remove obstructions from the path to your destination
  • Wear gloves when appropriate to protect your hands from sharp edges and/or to provide a sure grip
  • Get help when lifting objects that are too heavy or awkward to lift by yourself
  • Lift with your legs, not your back
  • Lift with a slow, smooth deliberate motion—don't jerk or fling the load

Ditch the Back Belts

Back belts are often recommended to reduce injuries. However, a study performed by NIOSH concluded that back belts should not be considered personal protective equipment and should not be recommended for on-the-job tasks. Instead of requiring employees to wear back belts, incorporate effective safety practices like those listed above. 

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