Yesterday, we talked about ways to protect our backs through posture, exercise, and proper planning of lifting.  Many industries involve heavy lifting, such as materials handling, delivery of products, and in the healthcare field, lifting of patients.  This type of lifting can cause caregivers to have to be in awkward positions often when a patient suddenly tries to get up unassisted, not realizing they will fall without the caregiver’s help. 

Employees whose jobs require lifting for long periods of time, should have adequate rest periods to allow their body to rest.  They should also drink water often.  Lifting heavy items is one of the leading causes of injury in workplaces.  Overexertion and cumulative trauma were the biggest factors in back injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor.  Employees should use smart lifting practices and work in their “power zone.”  They will be less likely to suffer back sprains, muscle pulls, wrist injuries, elbow injuries, spinal injuries, and other injuries caused by lifting heavy objects.  Factors that contribute to injuries are:

  • Environmental elements.
  • Inadequate handholds.
  • Weight of objects.
  • Awkward Postures.
  • High-frequency and long-duration lifting. 

“Power Zone” height is about mid-thigh to mid-chest.  Maintain neutral and straight spine alignment whenever possible.  Bending at the knees, rather than the waist, usually helps maintain proper spine alignment.  In handling heavy materials, if possible, break down loads in smaller quantities and break down loads off-site.  When possible, ask vendors to break down loads prior to delivery.  Weight should be limited to 50 pounds.  When lifting loads heavier than that, use two or more people to lift the load.  

Preplanning and good housekeeping will optimize employee access to heavy items.  Ladders should be used to elevate employees and move them closer to the work area to avoid overhead lifting.  Workers should try to avoid twisting, bending, and reaching awkwardly. 

Inadequate handholds make lifting harder by moving the load away from the body, lower lift heights, and increase the risk of contact stress and of dropping the load.  Ask suppliers to place their materials in containers with good handholds.  Handles, slots or holes should have enough room to accommodate gloved hands.  The proper personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn to avoid finger injuries and contact stress.  Work Safety Gloves should fit properly and furnish a good grip in order to reduce the risk of dropping the load.  Lifting belts, support belts, and shoes with non-slip soles are other ways of keeping the back and body safe. 

Environmental elements are other potential hazards.  Cold temperatures can cause decreased muscle flexibility, resulting in pulled muscles.  Very hot temperatures can lead to dehydration, fatigue, and increased metabolic load.  Low visibility or poor lighting can increase the risk of trips and falls. 

It is important for those who do physical work to be cautious about how they perform their duties.  Protecting the entire body, by wearing the correct PPE, and following the rules of safe lifting, or safe practices in general,  will allow workers to feel better much longer, and avoid long-term injuries.