Back Safety

Strains and sprains are the most common back injuries that result from manual material handling job tasks, such as lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and bending/twisting. Any job that involves heavy labor or manual material handling may include a high risk for injury on the job. Tasks involving bending and twisting, repetitive motions, carrying or lifting heavy loads, and maintaining fixed positions for a long time may lead to damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels.

Other common causes of back injuries:

  • Overexertion resulting from improper lifting of heavy and/or awkwardly shaped loads
  • Twisting, bending or jerking movements
  • Working in awkward positions for a long time
  • Highly repetitive lifting and/or twisting
  • Lack of physical conditioning or flexibility

Do back belts help prevent back injuries?

Back belts -- the kind you see workers wear when they lift heavy loads -- don't help avoid injury. Unfortunately, they may also give workers a false sense of security and lead to overexertion. When workers wear back belts, their back muscles don’t have to work as hard. When their muscles don’t work as hard, they get weaker. Weak muscles increase the odds of injuries when back belts are removed. If you use back belts, do not lift loads you would not otherwise lift without a belt. Loosen the belt when not lifting so the muscles get circulation and exercise.

Proper lifting techniques

  • Size up the load (load capacity) and determine if you can lift it safely
  • Ask for help, or use dollies or other material handling equipment
  • Center the load between your legs and shoulders
  • Lift with your legs, keeping the object as close to your body as possible
  • Keep your back straight as you lift
  • Break the load into smaller loads, and take more trips
  • Always push; never pull
  • Never twist while carrying an object

Discussion questions:

  1. Is overexertion a contributing factor to back injuries?
  2. What are some other common causes of back injuries?

Remember, the best way to prevent back injuries is to practice good ergonomics and learn how to do the job safely.

Planning is the key to keeping your back safe when lifting.