Preventing back injuries is a major challenge to employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, with back injuries accounting for one out of every five workplace injuries and illnesses. One fourth of all compensation indemnity claims are a result of back injuries. This problem produces pain and discomfort to employees, and can have a dramatic change in their productivity and lifestyles.
A BLS survey shows that four out of five of these injuries were to the lower back, and that three out of four occurred while lifting. This survey shows the importance of reducing back injuries caused by lifting. Although no approach has completely eliminated such injuries, a substantial portion could be prevented by incorporating an effective control program, along with an ergonomic analysis and design of work tasks.
Engineering controls are used to redesign the workstation or other work areas to minimize lifting hazards.
Administrative controls include carefully selecting and training workers so that they can perform their jobs safely.
Suggested administrative controls include:
- Strength testing of existing workers, which one study showed can prevent up to one-third of all work-related injuries by discouraging the assignment of workers to jobs that exceed their strength capacities.
- Physical conditioning or stretching programs to reduce the risk of muscle strain.
- Training employees to utilize lifting techniques that place minimum stress on the lower back.
How to Lift Safely
Before lifting, take a moment to think about what you're about to do. Examine
the object for sharp corners, slippery spots or other potential hazards. Know
your limit and don't try to exceed it. Ask for help if needed, or if possible,
divide the load to make it lighter. Know where you are going to set the item
down and make sure it and your path are free of obstructions. Then follow these
1. Stand close to the load with your feet spread apart about shoulder width, with one foot slightly in front of the other for balance.
2. Squat down bending at the knees (not your waist). Tuck your chin while keeping your back as vertical as possible.
3. Get a firm grasp of the object before beginning the lift.
4. Begin slowly lifting with your LEGS by straightening them. Never twist your body during this step.
5. Once the lift is complete, keep the object as close to the body as possible. As the load's center of gravity moves away from the body, there is a dramatic increase in stress to the lumbar region of the back.
If you must turn while carrying the load, turn using your feet-not your torso. To place the object below the level of your waist, follow the same procedures in reverse order. Remember, keep your back as vertical as possible and bend at the knees.
Using proper lifting techniques can help prevent downtime due to avoidable back injuries. With a little practice, precautionary methods such as these can become good daily habits that could help prevent back injuries-both on and off the job.
Remember, no approach will completely eliminate back injuries. However, a substantial portion can be prevented by incorporating effective administrative controls and engineering controls.
To evaluate a worker's lifting habits, consider the following variables: frequency of lifting, duration of such activities, and type of lifting, as well as the worker's state of health, body size, age and general physical fitness.
To help in the evaluation process, consider the Applications Manual for the
Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation, which gives an equation that you can use to factor
all of these variables. If you're interested in getting a copy of this manual,
call or write the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) at:
National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Stock # PB94-176930LJM
Commonly Asked Questions
Q. When carrying a load, is it okay to turn or twist my body as long as I turn with my torso?
A. No. You should try to minimize any turning or twisting, but if you must
turn while carrying the load, turn using your feet.
Q. Are there any guidelines I can follow to help assess multi-task lifting jobs?
A. Yes. To help in the evaluation process, refer to the Applications Manual
for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation.
Q. Will wearing a back support belt increase my maximum lifting potential?
A. No. Manufacturers of back support belts do not claim they increase maximum
Sources for More Information
"Facts About Backs," Bureau of Business Practice, 1994.
"Back Injuries-Nation's #1 Workplace Safety Problem," Fact sheet No. OSHA 89-09, U.S. Department of Labor.
"Watch Your Back," Mine Safety and Health Administration.