Did you know that after the common cold, back injuries are the most common reason for non-attendance in the general workforce, accounting for one in every five injuries and illnesses in the workplace? And what’s more, 80% of these injuries are are associated with manual materials handling tasks. While low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, many back injuries could be prevented.
Back injuries are mainly caused by repeated lifting of materials, sudden movements, whole body vibration, lifting and twisting at the same time, or bending over for long periods of time. Here are some ways to reduce the number and the severity of manual materials handling-related injuries.
Train workers to use proper, ergonomic lifting techniques. There’s more to safe lifting than just bending your knees! Here are some ergonomic lifting techniques you should practice:
Bend at the hips, rather than the lower back, and push the hip chest out, pointing forward.
Keep the weight close to your body – the closer the object is to one’s body, the less likely it is to lead to back injury
Repetitive lifting from the floor is particularly risky, so try to get the material off the floor if possible. Use a scissors lift to mechanically raise the load to a comfortable lifting level.
For long and narrow material, carrying loads on one shoulder is safer.
If you’re lifting a load with a handle, place one hand on one knee to get additional leverage and use a diagonal foot position.
When picking up small objects off the floor, use the “golfer’s lift.” For this technique, keep the legs straight without bending the knees and allow one leg to come off the floor behind to act as a counter balance.
For picking up awkward objects off the floor, half kneel behind the object and lift it onto your bended knee. Depending on where the object needs to be carried, either push with the front knee to propel backwards or push with the back knee to propel forward.
The lower back is not designed for twisting; instead, do the opposite: pivot. Pivoting means moving the shoulders, hips, and feet with the load in front at all times. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips and for changing directions, move the hips first so the shoulders will move in unison.
When climbing with a load, utilize a “three-point” contact: two hands and a foot or booth feet and a hand should be in contact with the stairs of ladder at all times.
Pushing and Pulling
In general, pushing is easier on the back than pulling. In order to have enough leverage to start the push, use both arms and legs. If you must pull, avoid twisting your lower back. If the load is very large, you can use your back to push against the load. Pushing with your back allows your legs to provide maximum force while preventing twisting the lower back.
The statistics tell the story. In the US, back disorders account for over 24 percent of all occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work. In the U.S. alone, more than $50 billion is spent each year treating back pain. And even though medical guidelines often recommend against it, nearly a quarter of the opioid prescriptions written in the U.S. are for low back pain. As always, the best solution is prevention.