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OSHA Proper Lifting Techniques: Safe Lifting Ergonomics

osha proper lifting techniques

Why Are Lifting Ergonomics Important?

Back injuries account for one in five workplace injuries, and 75% of workplace-related back injuries occur during a lifting task.

Every year, two million back injuries occur across the U.S.; roughly half of them – one million – are back injuries sustained in the workplace.

Back pain becomes chronic and disabling in roughly 5% of cases, and up to 44% of people who initially recover have a reoccurrence within a year. Then once you've had two episodes of back pain in a year, you're three times more likely to experience the third episode.

Put all that together, back injuries are a significant source of disability. After all, 5% of a million is 50,000 chronic and disabling cases of back pain.

The consequences are expensive for employers – in workers' compensation claims, days away from work, and lost productivity.

Are Proper Lifting Techniques OSHA-Required?

Yes and no.

OSHA has no specific standard related to ergonomic lifting, which means there are no safe lifting techniques OSHA recommends officially.

However, ergonomic lifting and safe lifting techniques fall under OSHA's General Duty Clause, which requires employers to protect workers from serious and recognized workplace hazards. As a result, you must employ any "feasible and useful" method necessary to mitigate the danger.

That includes providing equipment and safe lifting training to employees who are at risk.

What Should Be Included in Safe Lifting Training?

Safe lifting training should include topics like:

  • Health risks related to improper lifting
  • General principles of ergonomics
  • Good work practices, including safe lifting techniques and the use of equipment
  • How to recognize tasks that may lead to pain or injury
  • Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorder and the importance of addressing them early
  • Procedures for reporting work-related injuries

How to Lift Heavy Objects Safely

Before you can safely lift heavy things, there are four stages to consider:

  • Preparation
  • Lifting
  • Carrying
  • Setting Down

Before You Lift Heavy Things

Preparation and planning are critical aspects of ergonomic lifting.

First, you need to evaluate the lifting task for safety. Know how much you can safely lift and ensure the load doesn't exceed it. Assess whether the object is too large or awkward to lift and carry safely. Will you be able to get a good grip?

You need to know where you're putting the object ahead of time. Ensure the path is unobstructed, the floor is dry, and the distance isn't too great for safety.

If the load is too heavy or ungainly, will obstruct your vision, and needs to be carried too far or lifted overhead, you'll need to find a safe alternative. Is it a two-person job? Do you need a hand truck, dolly, pushcart, or another tool? Could gloves give you a better grip?

Once you have a plan for lifting ergonomics, you should stretch and warm up your muscles before lifting. Loosen up your back with lower-back rotations. Stretch your hamstrings and get the blood flowing – these measures will reduce your risk of injury.

Proper Lifting Techniques

You've probably heard, "lift with your knees, not with your back." But what does it mean?

It means you should never bend forward to lift a heavy object. Instead, you should squat, secure the load, and stand by straightening your legs while keeping your back straight or slightly arched.

Safe lifting involves:

  • Standing as close to the load as possible
  • Planting your feet shoulder-width apart with one foot slightly ahead of the other
  • Bending at the hips and knees only until you're deep in a squatting position
  • Keeping your head up and straight with your shoulders back to keep your back straight
  • Holding the load close to your body at waist height
  • Engaging your core muscles as you push against the ground and straighten your legs

Here are a few essential don'ts to keep in mind for good lifting ergonomics:

  • Never twist your torso while lifting. Stay "nose between your toes."
  • Never lift a heavy item above shoulder level.
  • Never carry a load that obstructs your vision.
  • Never hold your breath while lifting, moving, and setting the load down.

Carrying Heavy Things Safely

As you carry the load to its destination, you want to maintain good ergonomics. That means:

  • Holding the load as close to your body as possible, level with your belly button
  • Keeping your shoulders in line with your hips as you move – don't twist your trunk
  • Changing direction with your feet and leading with your hips
  • Taking small steps and keeping a good grip with all your fingers

Setting Down Heavy Things Safely

Setting down a heavy object is just as dangerous as picking it up. You'll want to reverse the lifting process, following the same ergonomic lifting principles:

  • Keep the load close to your body and your back straight or slightly arched
  • Squat down, bending only at the knees and hips
  • Tighten your stomach muscles (engage your core) as you lower yourself
  • Kneel on one knee if necessary

Remember not to rush the lifting process and to carry a heavy load. Also, keep in mind that the most dangerous lifting tasks are repetitive and for sustained periods. You need to monitor your exertion level and take breaks. Stop before you become too tired to lift safely.

Get Ergonomic Training Online

You can start to address your need for safe lifting training with online courses from an OSHA-authorized training provider like us. We have 20 years of experience teaching these principles and making them stick.

We have self-paced mobile-compatible courses on Ergonomics and materials handling safety for both Construction and General Industry. Enroll today!

In New York City? Check out our SST courses on the topic instead.