The sixth step on the path to safety leads us to the crucial topic of material handling.  Back injuries top OSHA’s list as the nation’s number one workplace safety problem.  Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970 states “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” 

OSHA generally uses the General Duty Clause to cite for ergonomic hazards in the workplace.  Specific ergonomic rules are not yet in place, although they have been under discussion and are likely to be implemented in the future.  This topic is so large and so important, we will be devoting two articles to the topic with the focus on safe lifting.

To minimize the potential for lifting injuries, employers need to implement the following:

    1. Conduct a hazard assessment to identify ergonomic hazards related to lifting;

    2. Implement engineering controls to reduce or eliminate ergonomic hazards related to lifting;

    3. Train in proper lifting techniques and preventative strategies to avoid lifting injuries; 

    4. Actively investigate each lifting injury to determine the root cause and find solutions to prevent reoccurrence.

OSHA has published e-tool which will assist you in your efforts to comply with the above recommendations. While this tool was designed for grocery warehousing, a majority of the tool is relevant for our warehousing environments. (You can access the link online atwww.asa.netin the Safety Resources section of the Web site.) 

When handling materials, consider the appropriate personal protective equipment required for the job. Steel-toed shoes are a must to prevent damage to the toes in the event materials fall unexpectedly. Tough work gloves are required when the material being handled is rough, sharp or splintery. 

When preparing to make the lift, have employees first size-up the load and the path that is going to be taken with the load. They must test the load to determine the weight of it and their ability to handle the size of it alone.  Tandem lifting or mechanical devices should be required for heavy (over 50 pounds) or awkward sized loads.  Employees must be certain of the following: that their hands are free of other items (such as packing labels or RF guns); that they can get a firm grip on the product; and that they have solid footing. They must plan their path of execution and make sure it is free of debris and obstacles so they do not stumble or fall. Packaging must be inspected to ensure it is secure and the load won’t fall out while being handled. 

To make the lift, have employees stand close to the load, crouch down with the load between their legs and get a good grip on the object. They must keep their bodies facing the object throughout the lift and use a slow smooth movement to rise, lifting with their legs and keeping their backs vertical with the load as close to their bodies as possible. If they must place the load to the right or left, they should move their feet to pivot rather than twisting their bodies. If they must carry the load, it should be kept in the space between their shoulders and waist and as close to the body as possible. The load should never block their view of the path they are taking.

If the load is over their heads, employees must get a ladder or mechanical lift to get to it more easily. Lifting should be at waist level if at all possible. If they must reach to get to the load, they should consider what they can do to get it closer to them before the lift. This may mean that they have to turn a pallet or walk around it to more easily reach the product located on the backside of it. If the product is light, they may be able to slide the product closer to them, although they should be cautioned that this becomes more difficult if shrink wrap is around the object and they are trying to pull it over other items wrapped in shrink wrap or across a rough pallet.

Material handling is a fact of life in the workplace. Developing and implementing a compliant material handling program will lead your company on the path to an effective safety program and positively impact your productivity, the health and well-being of your employees, and a better bottom line. A Toolbox Talk can be found online atwww.asa.netin the Safety Resources section of the website to assist you in talking with your employees about this critical topic.      

This article was written in conjunction with participants in the OSHA and ASA Alliance. It does not necessarily reflect the official views of OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor.