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Body Mechanics

Originally created by the Minnesota Safety Council for publication in the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust publication The Safeguard. Used with permission.

Uplifting Advice

Whether it's equipment or a box of copy paper, most of us face lifting chores regularly on the job. And unfortunately many of us face it badly. OSHA reports that one in every five disabling work-related injuries or illnesses is a back injury. In fact, back pain afflicts eight of 10 Americans. The most common back problems result from strained or pulled muscles and can affect almost one of every two people sometime during their lifetime. Once the back is damaged, it is more susceptible to repeated injury.

The National Safety Council suggests the following basics for safe lifting:

Pick your position: The closer the object is, the easier it is to lift. The more you bend and reach, the more you stress and tire your back. Lift the load straight up slowly, avoiding fast, jerky movements. Remember, setting the load down is just as important as picking it up.

How big is it? Test the weight of the object by trying to tilt it up. If it's difficult to move, it's too heavy to lift alone. Get help when you need to or use a hoist.

How often do you have to lift it? Repetition of even the easiest task can strain your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. The right design of your job can help reduce lifting tasks.

Don't twist and shout except on the dance floor. Twisting your back as you lift strains the muscles that support your back. Avoid twisting as you lift to keep your back strong. Never lift or carry a load above your head or on the side of your body.

Get a good grip: The more awkward and bulky the load, the greater the stress on your back. Make sure the load is balanced and even. Lifting handles can optimize the angle of the wrist, the position of the hand and the strength of the grip.

Firm footing: Working on dangerous surfaces can tire muscles and contribute to injury. Keep your feet apart to help balance. Put one foot slightly in front of the other. Shoes with non-skid soles and reinforced toes can help overcome uneven or slippery surfaces.

Stay strong: Eat healthy, stay hydrated, walk straight and tall, exercise regularly, stay lean, and keep control of the stress in your life.

A healthy back is worth the effort of good lifting habits.

Low-back injury prevention checklist

  • Provide mechanical assistance devices, tables or pallets to allow waist-height lifting. Lifting below knee height or above shoulder height is more strenuous than lifting between these limits.
  • Encourage employees to get assistance in moving bulky/heavy loads or to make loads smaller.
  • Schedule regular rest breaks for employees doing heavy physical work; ensure breaks are taken.
  • Teach good lifting and material-handling techniques; regularly review lifting techniques to reinforce adherence to safe habits.
  • Keep lifted objects close to body at waist level. Evenly balance loads with both arms.
  • Get help if the load is too bulky/heavy to lift alone, or split into smaller/lighter loads.
  • Take rest breaks to stand up, change position and stretch. Break tasks into shorter segments.
  • Avoid twisting, bending and reaching while lifting. Rotate entire body instead.
  • Bend and lift with the legs, not the back.
Occupations with common back hazards
  • Heavy lifting: manufacturing, construction and workers in most industries
  • Twisting and lifting at the same time: materials handlers, assembly workers
  • Lifting odd-shaped objects: construction workers, hospital workers (lifting patients)
  • Reaching and lifting objects: retail food cashiers, mechanics
  • Lifting variable weight items: baggage handlers, movers
Shovel it right

Whether it's snow or dirt or warehouse refuse, good shoveling technique requires good lifting skills.
  • Keep the shovel well maintained. Trim the edge and check the handle for splinters.
  • Wear heavy shoes with sturdy soles.
  • Keep feet apart for balance.
  • Put the load on the leg muscles.
  • Use the ball of the foot—not the arch—to press the shovel into stiff material. If the foot slips, the instep is more vulnerable to injury.
  • Keep materials from sticking and adding weight to the shovel.
So you can play it again

The golf course, tennis court and local park running path are not equipped with a dedicated safety manager. For most off the job sports and physical fitness activities, individuals are on their own. Keeping healthy and strong while active requires constant vigilance. AMA Health Insight offers the following tips:

  • Build up slowly: Avoid increasing your level of exercise too quickly. Give your body a chance to adapt to new demands.
  • Rest between heavy workouts: Days of vigorous workout should be followed by a day off or a lighter activity day.
  • Stretching: Flexibility and limberness of the joints helps you avoid injury. Stretch frequently and give extra attention to limbs and joints used in your chosen activities.
  • Know your sport: Each sport has special requirements and stresses. Don't underestimate the importance of proper technique, the right shoes and other personal equipment and good coaching. Read up on your activity in books or magazines.
  • Ounce of prevention: If you deal with minor problems quickly, you can keep them from getting worse. Recurrent pain or soreness probably indicates you are growing toward a serious injury. Cut back. Apply cold. Consult a doctor about possible causes and solutions.

Home remedies can ease mild inflammation. If pain or swelling persists more than a week, consult your physician for other treatment options. Your goal is to avoid recurrence. Repetitive stress injuries lead to serious damage to joints, tendons and ligaments if untreated or allowed to persist.
  • Rest: Take a break from your fitness routine and give your body a chance to heal. When symptoms subside, return to your routine gradually and take steps to avoid recurrence.
  • Cold: Apply cold to the point of inflammation for 10 to 15 minutes every one to two hours. This decreases swelling and dulls the pain. Don't apply ice or frozen cold packs directly to the skin. Wrap in a damp washcloth. A bag of frozen peas or corn makes a great cold pack and easily conforms to the affected area. "Rub-on" products are ineffective for treating swelling and inflammation and should not be used in place of cold.
  • Anti-inflammatories: Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories help decrease swelling and reduce pain. They do not substitute for rest or prevention. Do not take anti-inflammatories just to allow continuation of activities despite your injury. If symptoms do not subside, consult your physician.
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