Overexertion injuries – which most often occur when a load is being lifted or otherwise handled – accounted for 22 percent of nonfatal workplace injuries in 2009, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further, 42 percent of sprains, strains and tears in the workplace stemmed from overexertion – many of them from lifting. To prevent such injuries, NIOSH recommends both administrative controls and worker training.
Administrative controls to reduce overexertion injuries include:
- Plan the workflow to avoid unnecessary lifts, or minimize the distances loads must be carried.
- Tag all heavy or unstable loads. Reduce the weight by putting fewer items in a container or using smaller or lighter-weight containers.
- Pack contents of containers so the weight is evenly distributed.
- Position pallet loads at heights that allow workers to lift from their power zone – above the knees, below the shoulders and close to the body. Avoid storing materials on the floor.
- Rotate workers between lifting and non-lifting tasks. Allow periodic breaks to ensure workers have adequate rest.
NIOSH recommends workers take the following measures to avoid overexertion injuries when lifting:
- Always use mechanical lift devices, when available.
- Before lifting, check the load for stability and weight.
- Lift only as much as you can safely handle on your own. If required, make several trips carrying lighter weight.
- Keep the lifts in your power zone.
- Use your legs to lift the load rather than your back or upper body.
- Use smooth, even motions to avoid jerking.
- Step to the side when you need to turn – do not twist your body.
- Try to alternate physically demanding tasks with less demanding ones.