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Back injury is a serious condition for workers, accounting for 38.5% of musculoskeletal disorders originating at work. Musculoskeletal disorders account for 31% of workplace injuries, making back problems a significant cause of injury and reduced productivity. Improper lifting can stress the back muscles, leading to an injury that puts you out of commission at work. Learn the best way to lift goods at work to stay on the job and avoid injury.

Safe Lifting Techniques in the Workplace

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You need to follow safe lifting procedures every time you pick up something in the workplace. These tips become especially important if you have to pick up exceptionally heavy items.

Don’t forget about these tips when picking up materials outside of work as well. For example, if you want to know how to protect your back when lifting weights, these same back safety tips will help you, but you need to use them every time you lift something.

1. Plan Ahead

Before you pick up a weight, determine where it needs to go. Identify the path you will follow to put the load in its final position. Do you need to walk across a warehouse? Or are you lifting the item to another shelf?

During the planning phase, remove all obstacles that block your path. Doing so before you pick up the load will prevent you from tripping or needing to put the weight down and pick it up again.

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2. Position the Weight

Arrange the weight close to your body and centered in the front of you. When you lift a load in this position, you will use a balance of muscles on both sides of the body, which reduces the chances of straining any one part.

As you position the weight, draw in your abdominal muscles to help support your back. With strong abs, you may suffer less back pain or strain when lifting because you have extra support. Ensure your back remains in its natural position, neither curved inward or outward too much.

3. Place Your Feet Correctly

To prevent your body from twisting, plant your feet firmly on the ground. Use your shoulders as a guide to determine the space between your feet. With your feet the same distance apart as your shoulders, square up your form to prepare to pick up the load evenly.

4. Think About Your Chest Location

Where is your chest when you lift? Keep the load close to your chest. In this position, the load stays closer to your body. The ideal position for lifting a weight is to keep it between your thighs and shoulders. Keeping your chest near the item you want to lift ensures you keep the item within this zone.

5. Use Your Legs

Your legs have powerful muscles that can help you lift heavy loads without straining your back. In most cases, you will want to bend at your knees and use the strong muscles in your legs to lift the weight. By lifting with your knees, you also keep your spine closer to its natural alignment compared to if you bent at the waist.

The only exception to this rule is when lifting bulky loads. To keep these loads close to your body, you may need to bend at the waist, but when picking up weights that require this type of bending, ask for help to reduce the strain on your body.

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6. Know Your Limits

Even if you feel confident in your ability to regularly lift heavy loads, you need to know your limits in the workplace. At work, you will likely pick up boxes or other heavy products multiple times. Limit what you lift to no more than one-third to one-half of your body weight. These weight limits will help protect your back from injury. If the item you need to pick up exceeds half your body weight, get help or use a dolly or other lifting tool to pick it up.

Things to Avoid When Lifting

The above tips are things you should do when lifting heavy objects. For safe lifting, there are also some things you want to avoid to prevent back injury. Watch out for the following behaviors in yourself or others to stop an injury before it happens.

1. Avoid Twisting Your Body

Twisting your body puts strain on various muscle groups. When you turn your torso, your back muscles must support the load you lift in addition to your upper body, putting extra strain on them. Instead of balancing the exertion you put on your back muscles, one area will put more effort into lifting than the other. This imbalance can lead to strains or pulled muscles.

Another problem with twisting your upper body is its effect on your spine. When you put your back out of its natural alignment, you risk damaging the discs between your vertebrae. Damaged discs can bulge or rupture, causing significant pain.

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2. Don’t Carry a Load on One Side

Carrying a load on one side, such as resting it on a hip, strains one side of your back more than the other. You need to balance the load by carrying it centered with your spine. Lifting or carrying it on one side will increase your chance of injury.

3. Don’t Rely on a Back Belt

Do not use wearing a back belt as an excuse for using poor lifting techniques. There is little evidence that lumbar support belts prevent back injury. In a study of more than 9,000 workers, the researchers found no difference in injuries or pain in the backs of those who wore support belts and those who did not. The biggest predictor of back injury, the study found, was a history of having back pain. If you have a history of injuries or pain in your back or a current issue, talk to your doctor about whether you should continue to engage in lifting with your back injury.

Get the Training You Need in Lifting Ergonomics With Hazmat School

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While these lifting guidelines will get you started, you should have a more comprehensive understanding of proper lifting techniques. OSHA requires employers to ensure workers have a safe working environment which often includes providing training for the correct lifting method that will protect your back. Check out the ergonomics training course from Hazmat School to learn about the best ways to lift to protect your back and get the job done.

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