Everyday Material Handling
In the 2006 fiscal year, the Commonwealth of Virginia (COV) had 2,179 claims, costing $5,760,309, which related to strains and sprains from a variety of material handling tasks. These tasks included holding, carrying, jumping, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, and twisting. While many of these claims were related to heavy material handling tasks, some were related to everyday office tasks.
State agencies are good at recognizing tasks that can expose employees to heavy lifting or moving and provide those individuals with training in basic body mechanics and good lifting techniques. However, office employees, mailroom clerks, and supply room employees are sometimes overlooked or the hazards associated with the tasks they perform are not recognized. These individuals perform a variety of tasks that require them to lift, twist, bend, reach, pull, push, and carry a variety of materials from one area to another. Some of these tasks include:
- Lifting boxes
- Filling copiers with paper
- Making deliveries
- Moving supplies
- Sorting/delivering mail
Providing these employees with a variety of techniques to help decrease the risk of injury is key, including:
- Instruction on the use of assistive devices such as carts, dollies, and hand trucks;
- Arranging supply rooms and closets so that heavier objects are stored at waist level so employees may better lift and maneuver what they need.
- Training employees to break down materials into smaller loads that will require more trips, but will result in less strain on arms or backs.
- Encouraging employees to take their time and ask for help if needed.
Additionally, it is important for employees to know good body mechanics and lifting techniques. Lifting techniques include the basic lift, partial squat lift, the golfer’s lift, straight leg lift, and overhead lift. These techniques are discussed in the following information, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Health and Safety.
This is the most common method of good lifting.
- Get close to the object.
- Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, put one foot forward and to the side of the object.
- Keep your back straight, push your buttocks out, and use your legs and hips to lower yourself down to the object.
- Move the load as close to you as possible.
- If the box has handles, grasp the handles firmly and go to step 9.
- If no handles, put the hand (that is on the same side of your body as the forward foot) on the side of the object furthest from you.
- Put the other hand on the side of the object closest to you. Your hands should be on the opposite corners of the object.
- Grasp the object firmly with both hands.
- Prepare for the lift, look forward.
- Lift upwards following your head and shoulders. Hold the load close to your body. Lift by extending your legs with your back straight, your buttocks out, and breathe out as you lift.
Partial Squat Lift Use this lift for small light objects that have handles close to knee height.
- Stand with the object close to your side.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other.
- Place one hand on a fixed surface (such as a table) or on your thigh.
- Keep your back straight, push your buttocks out and slowly lower yourself down to reach the object’s handle.
- Prepare for the lift: grasp the object and look forward.
- For support as you lift, push down on the fixed surface (or on your thigh).
- Lift upwards following your head and shoulders. Lift by extending your legs with your back straight, your buttocks out, and breathe out as you lift.
The Golfer’s Lift Use this lift for small light objects in deep bins and to pick small objects off the floor.
- Place hand near the edge of a fixed surface (such as the edge of a table or bin). This hand will support your upper body during the lift.
- Keep your back straight and raise one leg straight behind you as you lean down to pick up the object. The weight of your leg will counterbalance the weight of your upper body.
- Grasp the object firmly.
- Prepare for the lift: look forward. Keep your leg raised as you initiate the lift.
- To lift, push down on the fixed surface as you lower your leg. Keep your back straight and breathe out as you lift.
Straight Leg Lift Use this lift when obstacles prevent you from bending your knees. Examples include retrieving items out of a car trunk or the back of a van.
- Stand as close to the object as possible with knees slightly bent.
- Do not bend your waist! Push your buttocks out.
- If the obstacle (preventing you from bending your knees) is stable, lean your legs against the obstacle for support. Use your legs and hips to lower yourself down to the object.
- Grasp the object firmly with both hands.
- Prepare for the lift: look forward.
- Lift upwards following your head and shoulders. Hold the load close to your body. Lift by extending your legs with your back straight, your buttocks out (exaggerate this position), and breathe out as you lift.
Overhead Lift Use this lift to place object on an overhead shelf. This lift starts with the object in your hands.
- Hold the object very close to your body.
- Keep feet shoulder-width apart, one foot slightly ahead of the other.
- Prepare for the lift: look forward.
- Raise the object to shelf height using the arm and shoulder muscles. Keep the object close to your body and breathe out as you lift.
- As you reach the shelf, slowly shift your weight from your back foot to your forward foot. Keep your back straight.
- When the load reaches the edge of the shelf, push the object onto the shelf.
These are a few specialized lifting techniques that office employees can use to perform their daily tasks. As with any lifting, employees should warm up by performing a few quick stretching exercises. These stretches obtained from the University of Virginia’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety will help loosen tight muscles that could cause an injury. As with any exercise program, have employees check with their physician before performing the exercises, especially if they have an underlying medical condition.
- Shrug your shoulders and then relax them. Roll your shoulders forward and backward. Gently shake your shoulders.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Reach over head and stretch, while stretching do side bends.
Upper Back & Arm Stretches (sitting position)
- Sit up straight, place your hands behind your head, move your elbows backwards to pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Stretch your arms behind your back.
Lower Back Stretches Sitting
- Bend forward in your chair and if able, touch hands to floor.
- Grasp leg at shin; slowly pull leg up to your chest. Repeat with other leg.
- Place hands on hips and bend backwards.
Upper Back and Upper Arm Stretches
- Interlace your fingers with palms facing away from your body, straighten your arms and lift them toward the ceiling.
The techniques and tips discussed are just a few ideas that employees can use to help perform their daily tasks safely. State agencies should take advantage of the Healthy Virginians campaign and CommonHealth programs to promote good exercise and nutrition. Using all of these resources together and help promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent injuries.
Commonwealth of Virginia (2006). Healthy Virginians. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from, http://www.healthyvirginians.virginia.gov.
Commonwealth of Virginia (2006). CommonHealth. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from, http://www.chp-online.com.
Centers for Disease Control. (n.d.) Lifting Techniques. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from, http://www.cdc.gov.
Centers for Disease Control (1/21/2000). Office Safety. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from, http://www.cdc.gov.
Hyde, Thomas E.DC (2001, January 8). The importance of abdominal exercise and back exercise. Spine-health.com. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from http://www.spine-health.com/Topics/conserv/backex/backex01.html.
Miller, Ron S. PT (2003, May 14). Avoid back injury with the right lifting techniques. Spine-health.com. Retrieved June 27, 2006, from http://www.spine-health.com/topics/cd/back_injury/back_injury02.html.
University of Virginia, Office of Environmental Health and Safety (n.d.). Ergonomics Program: Stretch Breaks. Retrieved June 27, 2006 from, http://keats.admin.virginia.edu.
University of Nevada, Reno (n.d.). Ergonomics: Safe Lifting Handout (U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine.) Retrieved June 27, 2006 from http://www.unr.edu.
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