Oh my aching back: preventing back injuries at work when lifting

04 March 2008

Relative lifting capabilities taking into account the zones around the body

Relative lifting capabilities taking into account the zones around the body

Having a company back injury prevention safety plan will give your employees the knowledge and training necessary to eliminate these costly workplace injuries. Your back injury prevention plan should encourage the use of equipment or mechanical devices to lift and move materials whenever feasible, using forklifts, dollies, hoists and the like. Also, the plan should detail the proper use of tools and equipment to lift loads safely.

The plan should set limits on objects that employees may physically lift, based on their weights and configuration. Employees should be instructed that two or more employees should work together when lifting heavy or awkward objects. Additional elements of the training plan should include proper warm up before lifting by doing light stretching and exercising before starting the work task. Supervisors should instruct employees in the proper warm-up techniques.

Training requirements

Back injuries can be prevented, but effective education is the key. The following back injury prevention guidelines will result in a safe working environment for all your companies' employees:

• Instruct employees of the importance of back injury prevention methods at the time of hire, and periodically remind your staff of these methods throughout the year.

• Employees should be in good physical condition and have the physical ability to perform the work task. Ask employees about their ability to perform routine lifting tasks.

• Employees must be instructed to ask for assistance when handling heavy objects.

• Coordinate and communicate the lifting plan and work task with each employee.

• Employees should be trained in the five key elements of an anatomically safe lift (see box).

• Supervisors and employees must be held accountable for implementing and following the back injury prevention guidelines established by your company.

• Avoid slipping and tripping by planning the lift and keeping work areas clean and free of these types of hazards.

• Employees should never wear a lifting belt or device unless it is approved by the supervisor. The supervisor should assure the employee is properly trained, fitted, and instructed in how to use such a lifting belt or device. Employees are often injured by the “Superman effect.” This occurs when an employee is wearing a lifting belt or device and he or she believes it offers the capability to lift more weight than can safely be lifted.

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