Lifting and carrying heavy loads: how to work in a back-friendly way

Many industries and occupations place a lot of stress on the back. Whenever loads are lifted, carried, pulled or pushed, forces act on the intervertebral discs, muscles, tendons and ligaments. This is not always avoidable, nor is it detrimental to health per se. It depends on the heaviness of the loads, the tools used and the optimal use of one’s own body, whether a strain becomes a (harmful) burden.

Although safety instruction on lifting and carrying heavy loads cannot be a lecture on anatomy, you should explain to your employees some basics about the structure of our spine. It is even better if your company doctor does this himself. The most important thing is that your colleagues understand the effects of heavy loads on their bodies. The forces that act on our bodies and the strain of lifting and carrying become clear in the following illustration:

© Safety Xperts Lifting and carrying heavy loads and effects on the spine

Did you know that 1800 Newton / 180 kg on your intervertebral discs when you without load bending forward by 60? With an additional load of 10 kg at a bend of 60°, the load on the intervertebral discs is already equivalent to 285 kg.

Another example: the pressure load on an intervertebral disc already increases from about 1 to 8 bar just by bending forward. When lifting with a hunched back, the pressure can increase to more than 20 bar. This is many times the pressure that a truck tire must withstand!

Lifting and carrying must not only be instructed theoretically

Make sure that when you instruct the topic of lifting and carrying heavy loads, it does not remain theoretical, but focuses on the specific requirements
in your company: What are the typical loads, load paths and associated stresses in your company?? The new delivery of printer paper from the receiving department to the office? The crate with wood waste from production to the inner courtyard? The lawn mower that needs to be lifted onto the flatbed of the van? Bring such examples if possible. Show them how these loads can be moved safely and in a way that is good for their health. Get practice with these movement sequences.

Make it clear to your employees that the health risks from heavy loads are not just about kg values. Several factors are decisive for a health load, such as

  • the weight of the load
  • The frequency of lifting or carrying required
  • Additional risk factors such as confined space, or working overhead
  • The correct posture

The first two points can often hardly be influenced by your employees. However, there has already been a lot of improvement in this area in recent years. Perhaps you have older employees in the company who can still tell you about the times when cement bags usually weighed 50 kg. The last point is crucial for successful instruction, because this is where you can take preventive action. On the one hand, your employees need to know which work factors have an unfavorable effect on the musculoskeletal system. This includes z. B. one-sided loads on one half of the body, twisting movements of the spine under load, deep bending, prolonged standing work, work overhead, monotonously repetitive sequences of movements or remaining in a certain body (forced) posture for a long time. Secondly, everyone should know what to look out for when transporting loads manually in a way that is suitable for the back.

You can find more information on ergonomics and lifting and carrying heavy loads on Untwerweisung-Plus. Here you can find videos and presentation templates to support your own instruction:

The 10 most important principles for back-friendly lifting and carrying:

  1. Grasping loads with both hands if possible.
  2. Do not lift loads jerkily, but slowly from a squatting position with your legs slightly apart and your back straight.
  3. Lift loads close to the body and place the load’s center of gravity as close to the spine as possible. The load on the intervertebral discs increases the further the center of gravity of the load is from the body.
  4. Do not twist the spine when lifting. First lift the weight, then rotate the body.
  5. Carry loads with a straight back, keeping arms extended downward.
  6. Distribute loads to both arms instead of carrying heavy loads on one side alone.
  7. When transporting loads, always ensure that there is a clear view (obstacles, steps, wetness, etc.).).
  8. Set down loads without large differences in height, if possible, and without a twisting motion.
  9. Always carry heavy or bulky loads in pairs.
  10. Consistently use work equipment such as hand trucks, pallet jacks, slings and all other lifting and carrying aids.

If you manage to get your employees to internalize these rules of conduct and make back-friendly working a matter of course in your company, you will effectively prevent damage to intervertebral discs and other musculoskeletal disorders.

In order to plan further preventive measures against back pain, for example also with screen work in the office, I recommend this back fit package.

Attention: Ergonomic work does not only concern the back!

Back-friendly load transport and correctly adjusted computer workstations are important starting points in many companies to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. But remember that ergonomics goes far beyond that. Ergonomics means the conscious design of workplaces, machines, tools, etc. This starts with allowing employees to adjust their workstation to their individual body dimensions as much as possible, and includes all factors of the work environment, from lighting to the software used. Therefore, when instructing on the topic of lifting and carrying, also use the setting to openly discuss with your employees,

  • Where in your company people still have to adapt too much to their working environment and
  • where you can start in order to adjust the working conditions better to the people, your employees.

Fact: A high degree of ergonomics not only leads to more safety and health, but also has a positive effect on motivation and well-being at work. Ergonomic
designed workflows are less stressful and tiring, run more efficiently and increase the quality of work and productivity.

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