The Manual Handling Operations Regulations define manual lifting as any activity that requires an individual to lift, move or support a load. Incorrect manual handling in the workplace is one of the most common causes of injury and even those who handle light loads repetitively in poor conditions can be at risk. To prevent injury and back pain you should learn how to safely lift heavy objects and to take care with bending and twisting.
Know your limits
The NHS Choices website provides a careful guide with safe lifting and handling tips recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. When lifting a heavy object, you should first, however, always assess your limits – if you suspect the load may be too heavy for you or you have experienced back injuries before you should consider asking for assistance. Remember that you may be able to lift a load, but not safely, so make sure to honestly assess your capabilities.
When lifting, you should first take care to plan your lift. Identify the space where the load will be placed and make sure any obstructions that may cause you to trip are removed from your path. You should also carefully consider the distance of the lift. For lifts from floor to shoulder you should maybe consider changing your grip or finding a mid-way resting point.
To reduce the amount of pressure on your back when lifting the NHS recommends keeping your load as close to the waist for as long as possible and keeping the heaviest side of the load next to the body. This will reduce the strain when walking.
You should always adopt a stable position when lifting. Try to keep your feet apart with one leg forward to maintain good balance and posture for reduced pressure on your back. Maintain this posture throughout the lift, even if it means moving your feet.
Ensure a good grip on your load by hugging it close to your body. Try not to rely only on gripping the load with your hands only.
Watch this video for some visual advice on lifting: http://youtu.be/8cGecetwzyc
Bending and twisting
Bending while lifting is dangerous and can easily be the cause of a back injury. You should only bend your back, knees and hips very slightly at the start of the lift rather than stooping or fully squatting. Instead you should aim to lift with your legs while keeping your back straight.
Similarly, you should avoid twisting or leaning sideways when lifting to avoid injury. If you need to turn, moving your feet is preferable to twisting and lifting simultaneously, while making sure to keep your shoulders level and facing the same directions as your hips.
Try to lift in a slow, smooth and controlled manner – any sudden or jerky movement increases the risk of injury and can make it harder to control the lift.
If you are experiencing any back pain that may be a result of lifting you should talk to your GP about exercises that can alleviate pain and improve your posture. If your job involves manual handling, you should consider following these NHS guidelines to lifting safely and talk to your managers about improving workplace ergonomics.