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Manual materials handling can be back breaking

Manual handling of materials is one of the primary causes of musculoskeletal injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says cumulative trauma and overexertion cause missed workdays in various industries nationwide, including California. Lifting heavy objects cause strains and sprains that often lead to long-term health problems.

Typical injuries that you might suffer include pulled muscles, back sprains, elbow and wrist injuries, spinal injuries and other strains, sprains and tears to ligaments, tendons and muscles. Few workers stop to consider the size, weight and other aspects of an object before lifting it, and when they realize that it is too heavy, the damage is already done. You can take precautionary steps that might increase your chances of avoiding MSDs, but eliminating manual handling is the single best protection.


Depending on your capabilities, safety authorities say any loads that weigh around 50 pounds or more are hazardous for manual lifting. Mechanical equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks can lift and move heavy objects efficiently while preventing workplace injuries. Other possible solutions include the following:

  • Use lift gates or ramps to load heavy machinery onto trucks.
  • The safest position from which to lift objects manually is a height that is between your thigh and your chest because you can complete such a lift with a straight spine.
  • Arrange with suppliers to pack materials in smaller and lighter packages.
  • Ask a co-worker to help lift anything that is too heavy for you to lift safely.

The lack of handholds

Objects without adequate handholds such as slots, handles or holes pose increased risks of stress injuries and dropped loads. The following might provide solutions to the problem:

  • Place objects without handholds into containers with handles.
  • Lift objects with flat, smooth surfaces with the help of suction devices.
  • Wear gloves that can provide grip and protect your fingers from injury.

 Awkward body postures

If you have to bend or reach to lift or lower a load, you increase lower spine stress, which you can avoid by taking note of the following:

  • Avoid carrying objects in one hand, under one arm or on one shoulder.
  • Carry items as close as possible to your body and use the strength of your legs rather than your back to lift and lower loads.
  • Use a ladder or aerial lift to reach objects that are above shoulder height.

It will not be easy to prevent injuries due to manual material handling, and it might be a good idea to plan your tasks and the work areas in a way that will limit the need to lift and move objects.

In the event of an injury, you can rest assured that the California workers' compensation system will have your back. As long as you report your injury as soon as possible, you will be eligible for benefits to cover your medical expenses and a portion of your lost wages. You are free to utilize legal counsel to assist with the administrative and legal aspects of the claims process.

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