You only have an hour left to work and there is still a truckload of boxes needing to be loaded. Determined to meet the deadline, you pick up the pace, lean over to lift a large package without bending your knees, and suddenly you feel a surge of pain up your back. You’ve just joined the thousands of workers in Canada who are injured or even permanently disabled by back injuries each year.
It is probably fair to say that every worker who lifts or does other manual handling tasks is at some risk for musculoskeletal injury. About three of every four workers in Canada whose jobs include manual materials handling (MMH) suffer pain due to back injury at some time, accounting for about one-third of all lost work and 40 percent of all compensation costs. Each year, several thousand workers in Canada are permanently disabled by back injuries. Lifting is the most common cause of low back pain at work in Canada. The number and the severity of injuries can be greatly reduced by preparing and planning for the lift, and practicing safe lifting and handling techniques.
Before: plan and prepare
Dress appropriately. Wear lightweight clothing that is flexible but that won’t easily tear, avoiding exposed buttons, zippers or loose flaps that could get caught in the load. Protect your hands and feet by wearing safety boots with toe caps and slip-resistant soles; and protective gloves, appropriate for the materials being handled.
Plan your lift. Make sure that the path to where you are taking the load is clear of obstacles and debris – such as grease, oil, water, and litter – that can cause you to slip and fall. Remove anything that is in the way.
Warm up your muscles with gentle stretches to prepare them for the physical stress of the lift and other handling tasks. This is an especially important step for workers who only lift occasionally and may not be accustomed to handling loads.
Test the load for shifting contents and weight by pulling or sliding it toward you. Determine if you can lift it without overexerting yourself. A big load of the same weight will put more strain on your body than a small load. Do not lift if you are not sure that you can handle the load safely. Get help with heavy or awkward loads, or when possible use equipment such as hoists, lift trucks dollies or wheelbarrows.
Tips for the lift
Specific handling and lifting techniques are needed for different kinds of loads or materials being handled (for example, compact loads, small bags, large sacks, drums and barrels, cylinders, sheet materials like drywall). There is no single correct way to lift because lifting can always be done in several ways. Because of this, on-site, task-specific training is essential. There are some general lifting rules to follow:
Stand close to the load facing the direction that you’ll be moving.
Place your feet wide apart to keep your balance.
Get and keep a good grip on the load using both your hands – not just your fingers. Grasp opposite corners and balance your load evenly between both arms.
As you lift keep your back as straight as is comfortable, tightening your abdominal (stomach) muscles.
Bend your legs so they do the lifting.
Lift the load smoothly, without jerking, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
Keep the load in the middle, between shoulder and knee height.
Avoid twisting and side bending while lifting. Step or pivot, turning your whole body.
Plan where to set the load down, ideally on a raised platform that won’t require you to bend down with the weight of the load. Avoid placing loads directly on the floor.
It is also important to take advantage of rest periods to relax tired muscles and recover your strength between lifts to be able to work safely. Switch between heavy loads and lighter ones. Rest more often when it is hot and humid and when it is cold, and take more time to warm up your muscles.
Proper lifting and handling methods can protect you from getting injured. Learn to think before you bend to pick up an object and eventually safe lifting techniques will become good habits.