Jobs that require heavy lifting can strain muscles around backs and spines, especially when smart lifting practices are not followed. Consider the following guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure that your workforce isn't over-exerting itself.
One of the most frequent causes of back strain is a poor or awkward posture that causes improper lifting. The body is designed to lift things, but it must be done correctly or the spine and the muscles surrounding it will bear the brunt of the strain.
The most important rule of thumb is to lift with your legs and not with your back. This means that you should never bend over an object before lifting it. Bending over requires the back to support the weight of both the object and your upper body. It also moves the load away from the body, allowing leverage to significantly increase the pressure on the back and spine. Objects that are being lifted should be placed as close to the body as possible and lifted up while straightening the legs.
The same principle applies to the arms as well as the back. If workers need to reach out or up for an object before they pick it up, they are increasing the effective load and placing unnecessary strain on their shoulders by having the load away from the body. When objects are being moved, the surrounding area needs to be kept tidy to maintain easy access to the objects being lifted so that employees can avoid bending and reaching for those objects.
Lifting can cause many injuries, but the act of carrying is also responsible for other ailments as well.
Lifting and carrying without taking a break can cause overexertion and injury. The ideal location for heavy objects being carried is in the "power zone," which lies between the mid-thigh and the middle of the chest. At this point, carrying strength is at its most efficient. Workers should be encouraged to move very heavy objects first to stomach level on a table or box. After objects have been brought to this level, they should then be lifted and carried while keeping elbows close to the body.
Heavy objects should be held evenly by both hands and never on one shoulder, with one hand, or under one arm. This puts an imbalanced pressure on the spine, which can become damaged from overcompensating to balance the load.
Hands should be taken into account as well and should be protected with work gloves while lifting. Proper handholds, such as handles, slots, or hole cut-outs on boxes, should always be utilized to make lifting and carrying easier and more efficient. Handholds on objects should always have enough room to accommodate a gloved hand.
Whenever possible, heavy loads should be broken down into smaller units so that workers don't have to carry as much at once.
To ensure smart lifting, implement the use of forklifts, pallet jacks, and hand trucks to handle heavy objects and consider rotating or breaking up tasks to give muscles time to rest. Training your workforce about proper lifting techniques, including lifting and carrying loads that are balanced and in the "smart zone" will limit overexertion, sprains, and strains.