June 25 2015


Large amounts of long term workers compensation injuries and resulting costs are related to back strains from workers lifting too heavy an item or not lifting and moving correctly.

Common injuries caused by poor manual handling include sprains and strains, back pain and hernias.  These injuries are the result of damage to the intervertebral discs and muscles of the back, which are often strained during manual handling.

The abdominal muscles make the most contribution to preventing back injury.  To enable this muscle to assist you properly when lifting, you must contract it as you lift.  If this muscle is relaxed, the load typically shifts to the lower back muscles and overloads them. As such general good health, fitness and not being overweight not only contributes to a healthy lifestyle, but assists in preventing back injuries.

Injury to the back may result from either:

  • gradual wear and tear caused by frequent manual handling over a period of time
  • sudden damaged caused by one strenuous lift
  • sudden damage caused by an unplanned twist or fall.

The back is not designed to frequently bend, lift, move, push or carry anything that puts added pressure on the vertebrae, or requires you to exert force to do so.  Injuries caused by incorrect manual handling are often easily preventable.  There is no safe weight to lift, you must assess each job using some simple rules.

  • Assess the load and plan the job – consider how far the load must be moved and if the path is clear.
  • Always consider mechanical assistance to assist – a trolley or multiple person lift.
  • The risk of back injury increases significantly when lifting weights heavier than 15 kg.
  • Do not lift loads greater than you are comfortable with.
  • If it is not practical to eliminate lifting from a job or activity, employees should be instructed to lift in accordance with safe lifting techniques.

Safe lifting

  1. Think the job through:
  • how far must it be carried
  • are all the doors open
  • can a mechanical assistance be used
  • how can I hold the load
  • is help needed
  • where does the load have to be placed.
  1. Correctly position your body:
  • stomach muscles contracted
  • bend your knees
  • place feet on either side of the load
  • grip the load firmly
  • keep your back and shoulders straight
  • keep your body balanced
  • lift the load smoothly, using your legs – not your back.
  1. Handle the load correctly:
  • use your full body weight to move the load
  • face the direction in which the load is to be moved
  • hold the load close to your body
  • move your feet – do not twist your body
  • look where you are going
  • move slowly and steadily.
  1. Place the load down:
  • place load at waist height if possible
  • squat down using the same principles as the lift
  • Never lift a load if you have to exert yourself to do so.

If you must move the object during a lift, do so by pivoting on your feet and leaving your hips and back straight.

For more information on manual handling techniques, manual handing training sessions/presentations, or any other OSH inquiry, please do not hesitate to contact Safety Solutions WA.