There are many reasons why workers should practice proper lifting techniques. Primarily, proper form and lifting technique reduce injury and health risks to yourself and others. Poor form, on the other hand, can cause injuries such as muscle strains and tears, back and joint pain, and more. In fact, manual handling injuries make up a third of all workplace injuries and often keep staff off work for months at a time.
This article presents a step by step guide on how to use safe manual handling lifting techniques in the workplace. We will cover heavy lifting considerations, correct form, employer law, and more.
Heavy lifting considerations
Manual handling tasks should be avoided as far as possible to prevent injuries to your workforce. In some cases, however, manual handling tasks are unavoidable. In such instances, employers must assess the risk and implement the necessary health and safety measures.
Before staff undertake a manual handling task, consider the following points:
• The individual’s capability
• The nature of the load
• Relevant staff training
• Work environment and conditions
How to lift heavy objects
Lift using the power zone
Workers should not lift heavy loads from ground level, or above shoulder height. The optimal area should be focused on the ‘power zone’, which we will discuss in more detail in a later section.
Avoid unnecessary movements
When lifting a heavy load, it is vital that staff avoid twisting, reaching, and stooping down, as these movements can cause injury when handling heavy items.
Keep working areas clear
Minimise the need for manual lifts by ensuring working areas are obstacle-free. Also, consider how you can adjust the layout to shorten carrying distances. Before moving a heavy load, it is useful to assess its weight and consider logistics. In many cases, a large, heavy load can be broken down into smaller, more manageable components.
Practising proper base lift technique
1. Adopt a wide base of support
Before lifting the heavy object, adopt a wide base of support. Do this by ensuring your feet are shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other. This will establish a solid base and help you maintain balance through the lift.
Once you have established a wide base of support, squat down as close to the object as possible. To squat efficiently, keep your back straight, bend your knees, and lower yourself towards the ground. If the load you are lifting is particularly heavy, put one knee on the floor and bend your other knee in front of you at a right angle to give yourself support.
3. Maintain a good posture
It is crucial to maintain a good posture during the lift. Do this by keeping your back straight and looking straight ahead, while ensuring your shoulders are back and your chest is out. Failure to maintain good posture can lead to many health concerns, such as back pain, migraines, decreased energy, and in extreme cases, heart problems.
4. Slowly lift the load
Lift the load slowly while holding it close to your body (in the power zone - belly button level or higher). Remember, never lift a heavy item above your shoulders or while your arms are extended outward.
Lift the load safely by straightening your hips and knees while extending your legs.
Breathe out while you lift the item and avoid bending or twisting during the lift.
5. Change direction using your feet
When handling a heavy load, you should use your feet – not your body – to change direction.
Lead with your hips and take slow, small steps while ensuring your shoulders are aligned with your hips as you move.
6. Set down the load
Following the same process as step 2, perform a squat manoeuvre and set the load down carefully.
Lifting in the power zone
As previously noted, you should always lift in the power zone to maximise efficiency and minimise the risk of injury. The lifting power zone is located between mid-thigh and mid-chest height, with the load kept close to the body. It is the optimal posture for heavy lifting as it allows the arms and back to lift most of the weight with the least amount of effort. It also minimises excessive reach and maintains a neutral position when lifting heavy loads.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 apply to all work which involves lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, or carrying. If in doubt, always consult the regulations.