Safe Lifting Procedures

Beginner’s Guide to Safe Lifting Procedures

Back pain is one of the most common complaints of workers in the United States, yet is a condition that can be easily averted by simply learning safe lifting procedures and then practicing these techniques.  Since the back is the main support of the human body, using it without abusing it can keep your back healthy throughout your lifetime.

The back

Located on the opposite side of the chest, the back extends from the base of the neck to the top of the buttock area.  The spine runs vertically down the back, and the rib cage encircles horizontally.  The length of the spinal column and the width of the broad shoulder bones called the scapula determine the size of an individual’s back.

The purpose of the back, besides supporting the body, is to provide strength, flexibility and movement.  These functions are all accomplished through the synergistic work of muscles, bones, ligaments, nerves and tendons.  Any one of these parts may become the target of injury that can cause back pain.  The most common type of back pain experienced is muscle strain, but can also include injuries to the discs in the spine, fractures and osteoarthritis.  Injuries frequently occur due to incorrect methods used when lifting items.

Safe lifting procedures

Whether at home or work, lifting items is a part of life.  We do it automatically, without giving the method used any thought whatsoever.  However, there is a right way and a wrong way to lift, especially heavy items.  Certain steps must be taken to protect the health and well being of the back.

  1. Use of an industrial back belt.  The belt itself cannot prevent injuries, but it can serve as a reminder for the wearer to lift properly.  Belts are equipped with rigid supports in the lumbar region to prevent improper bending at the waist; one of the biggest mistakes people make when lifting.  They do NOT allow people to lift larger or heavier loads.

  2. Use your legs.  The most important factor when lifting is to use your powerful leg muscles for the job.  Most people, without realizing they do so, bend at the waist as they reach for and lift an object.  This simple move creates great stress on the back and leads to most injuries.  Instead, keep the back as straight as possible, bend the knees, grasp the object and allow the leg muscles to bear the weight.

  3. Assess the load.  Before actually lifting the object, try to determine its weight by carefully lifting a corner or edge.  If it seems too heavy, ask for help lifting the object.

  4. Plan your path of movement.  Do not try to zigzag from point A to point B while balancing a load in your arms.  Plan the path you will take while carrying the load, making it as straight and obstacle free as possible. 

  5. Balance the body when lifting.  Keep your feet a hip width apart; one in front of and one behind the load; never parallel to each other.  Remain facing forward at all times and maintain a good grip on the object. 

  6. Muscle use.  The abdominal muscles and the leg muscles are the most important muscle groups used during lifting.  After proper techniques are followed in squatting to pick up the load, tighten the abdominals and use the legs to lift the body and the load from the ground.

  7. Releasing the load.  Setting the object down requires proper techniques similar to safe lifting procedures, only in reverse.  Bending at the knees and keeping the back as straight as possible, place the object on the surface designated.  NEVER reach up with the load to place it higher than your head.

These steps may seem elementary; however, many people do not stop to think about how they are lifting objects before they do so.

Back pain is most often attributed to back muscle strain, a condition that occurs when people lift objects improperly.  Most cases of back pain can be easily averted by simply adopting safe lifting procedures, which can keep the back healthy throughout life.