Safe Lifting-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Safe Lifting

Lifting is the largest single cause of back injuries, both nationally and here at FMS.  The use of mechanical lifting equipment is the best way to minimize stress on the back.  A second choice is to push the load.  (Pulling is not a good option, however, because this also can place excessive strain on your back).    Sometimes however, neither of these options is practical, so it is important that you know how to lift properly.

Always size up the load before you lift it.  Test it by lifting one of the corners to get an idea of its weight.  It may be necessary to get someone to help you, particularly if the object's shape is irregular, which will result in an awkward lift.

Before you actually make the lift, plan your route ahead of time.  Make sure there are no stumbling hazards where you will be walking, and that you will have a clear place to set the load down.  Check for good solid footing, especially if the surface is wet, greasy, muddy, or snow or ice covered, or if housekeeping is poor.

The most important rule when lifting is to bend at your knees.  This is nothing new to you.  Everyone has heard it before, and we've all watched weight lifters pick up enormous weights by taking advantage of their leg strength.  But we still do it wrong, even though we know the right way.  Always, no matter how light the load, bend at the knees.  Center yourself over the load and maintain a good firm grip.  Then, lift straight up, and do it smoothly.

Once you've made the lift, keep the load close to your body and never, ever twist.  Twisting and turning while carrying an object is a sure fire way to injure your back.  If you have to turn, move your feet rather than turning at the waist. 

Once you've lifted and moved the load, at some point it will be necessary to set it down.  Doing this properly is just as important as picking it up in the first place.  Again, use your legs.  Bend at the knees and lower the load slowly and smoothly.  

When you have to lift something, break it down into smaller loads if you can.  Making a few extra trips may seem like a bother, but it is nothing compared to a back injury. 

If you should happen to lose your grip while lifting or carrying something, let it fall.  Trying to catch a dropping load will probably result in an injury of some sort. You will either be struck by the load or get your hand pinched, or you will successfully catch it only to see your back or shoulders jerk or twist.

If you should experience back pain, simple rest will often correct it.  However, serious back injury or chronic back pain is going to require treatment.  If your pain persists, or if it is accompanied by weakness or numbness in the lower extremities, see your doctor.  This kind of trauma will not correct itself, but it will get progressively worse if left untreated.

Following these simple rules will reduce your risk of back injury, and enable you to be more productive and comfortable, both on the job and at home.