While here at BEB we focus mostly on the equipment side of material handling safety, we know that there are a lot of other areas of safety that impact you facilities and employees on a daily basis.  Today, we are going to talk about work-related musculoskeletal injuries resulting from over exertion and repetitive movements and what can be done to address and help prevent them.

warehouse workers in front of forkliftIt’s true, these types of injuries don’t seem to get as much press as the more horrific injuries seen when man (or woman) meetings equipment or machines.  However, we are seeing a little more than one in every five claims during research conducted by the SHARP Program, leading one to conclude these types of injuries actually DO need some attention.

Some of the stats gathered from that research were recently shared in an article in EHS Today, titled “Material Handling: The Secret to Reducing Workplace Injuries and Expenses.”

  • Injuries to the back, neck and shoulders account for about 2/3 of manual material handling claims.
  • The most commonly cited cause of injury was handling a container (25 percent).
  • Among WMSD claims where the injury type was specified,

–55 percent were attributed to lifting,

–17 percent were attributed to holding, carrying, turning and wielding,

– 14 percent were attributed to pushing and pulling.

As from that same article, “Lifting is by far the biggest issue when it comes to ‘sprains and strains’ in the workplace. There are two lifting problem areas. Heavy lifting is the obvious risk. And awkward lifts – bending over, reaching out or reaching up to lift objects – are the second biggest problem, even if this is less obvious,” said Rick Goggins, an ergonomist with Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (DOSH).

What are some things that you can train your work force to ask themselves before lifting or moving objects in an effort to reduce and help stop these types of injuries?

Have you checked the object before you try to lift it?

  • Test every load before you lift by pushing the object lightly with your hands or feet to see how easily it moves. This tells you about how heavy it is.
  • Remember, a small size does not always mean a light load.

Is the load you want to lift packed correctly?

  • Make sure the weight is balanced and packed so it won’t move around.
  • Loose pieces inside a box can cause accidents if the box becomes unbalanced.

Is it easy to grip this load?

  • Be sure you have a tight grip on the object before you lift it.
  • Handles applied to the object may help you lift it safely.

Is it easy to reach this load?

  • To avoid hurting your back, use a ladder when you’re lifting something over your head.
  • Get as close as you can to the load. Slide the load towards you if you can.
  • Don’t arch your back–avoid reaching out for an object.
  • Do the work with your legs and your arms–not your back.

What’s the best way to pick up an object?

  • Use slow and smooth movements. Hurried, jerky movements can strain the muscles in your back.
  • Keep your body facing the object while you lift it. Twisting while lifting can hurt your back.
  • Keep the load close to your body. Having to reach out to lift and carry an object may hurt your back.
  • “Lifting with your legs” should be done only when you can straddle the load. To lift with your legs, bend your knees, not your back, to pick up the load. Keep your back straight.
  • Try to carry the load in the space between your shoulder and your waist. This puts less strain on your back muscles.

How can I avoid back injuries?

  • Warm up. Stretch your legs and your back before lifting anything.
  • Pace yourself. Take many small breaks between lifts if you are lifting a number of things.
  • Don’t overdo it–don’t try to lift something too heavy for you. If you have to strain to carry the load, it’s too heavy.
  • Make sure you have enough room to lift safely. Clear a space around the object before lifting it.
  • Look around before you lift, and look around as you carry. Make sure you can see where you are walking. Know where you are going to put down the load.
  • Avoid walking on slippery, uneven surfaces while carrying something.
  • Don’t rely on a back belt to protect you. It hasn’t been proven that back belts can protect you from back injury.
  • Get help before you try to lift a heavy load. Use a dolly or a forklift if you can.