Tips for safe lifting in the workplace
A healthy back is as important for workplace productivity as it is for an individual’s quality of life. Unfortunately, the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by the social environment has taken its toll on our backs. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical exercise make us more prone to having back injuries than previous generations, so knowing how to life things properly has never been more important.
The weight that you are lifting can be an object as light as a ream of paper or as heavy as a piece of furniture, but the resulting pain can be equally severe. Most often, the cause is strained muscles and ligaments. The pain goes away after a few days, but not before affecting your output. On an organisational scale, a hurt back means missed deadlines, lost workdays, and compromised organisational effectiveness. The National Health Service estimate that approximately 7.6 million working days were lost due to work-related back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders in 2010-11.
Tips for Lifting in the Workplace
Fortunately, there are a number of simple things that you can do around the workplace to reduce back injuries caused by lifting, on- or off-work. The following top lifting tips have demonstrated a marked improvement in workplace health by sharply cutting down on the number of inured backs.
Talk about the Back (not behind the back)
People can avoid pain and stay healthy just by being conscious and informed about the correct lifting techniques. Talk about them in your health and safety meetings, but also remind people regularly whenever you see them lifting thingsoffice. Share lifting tips on your company intranet or blog.
Rethink Workplace Design
Do people have to bend down frequently to lift stuff? Can you make the workplace “lift-free” by placing things around at waist level? As someone who has worked in the National Health Service, I know the value of minimizing the number of unnecessary workplace lifts that people routinely need to carry out.
Top Workplace Lifting Tips (that also work at home)
- Think and imagine the lift in your mind. This aligns your muscles and makes your body ready for lifting whatever it is that you are going to pick up. Lifting mindlessly catches the back by surprise, and you may in turn be surprised by the resulting pain.
- Hug the weight close to your waist. Bend your legs to reduce the vertical distance between the weight and your waist. Do not stretch your arms forward very much, as this puts strain on your shoulders, neck and back.
- Keep an upright Posture. Do not slouch forward while lifting, or you might have to stay in that pose for a few days because of a pulled back muscle. Keep your back upright and use your legs to help in lifting. Stabilise your posture before you begin lifting.
- Keep your head up and look up instead of looking at what you are lifting. This reduces the amount of load on your back.
- Do not twist your back while lifting, for obvious reasons. Do not change your posture during the lift.
- Keep a smooth motion throughout the lift. Jerks and snatches can cause accidents apart from back injuries.
- Be careful while placing the object down. Don’t bend down too much, and don’t try to make precise adjustments to place the object accurately. You can put it down and make the finer adjustments later.
- Lastly, know your limits and do not try to lift an object if you are unsure about whether you can lift it.
For managers of businesses in the warehouse and retail sectors, where considerable manual handling is involved, it is well worth investing in practical demonstrations of the above lifting tips. Staff will appreciate your concern for the health of their backs and businesses will lose fewer days through avoidable and unnecessary back injuries.
Dr Garry J McCLean is a health and safety consultant and writes for The Workplace Depot and for various industry magazines about workplace issues.