Jobs often involve bending, lifting and carrying. Construction and warehousing have special machinery for lifting, but people still use their backs. Hospitals, nursing homes, police work, fire fighting and emergency medical care all involve lifting of people, sometimes in life-threatening situations. It is particularly important that public entities help their staff prevent injury while doing their jobs.
Although a typical office job may not involve lifting large or especially heavy objects, it’s important that workers follow the principles of safe lifting. Small, light loads (i.e., stacks of files, boxes of computer paper, books) can wreak havoc on their backs, necks, and shoulders if they use their bodies incorrectly when they lift them. Backs are especially vulnerable and most back injuries result from improper lifting.
Posture affects which muscle groups are active during physical activity. Awkward postures can make work tasks more physically demanding by increasing the exertion required from smaller muscle groups and preventing the stronger, larger muscle groups from working at maximum efficiency. The increased exertion from the weaker, smaller muscle groups impairs blood flow and increases the rate of fatigue.
Encourage a midrange, comfortable posture by ensuring that materials, tools, and equipment for all work activities (excluding lifting tasks) are kept in the “general safety zone” (between the hips and shoulders and close to the body). Lifting tasks should be performed within the “lifting safety zone” (between the knuckles and mid-chest and close to the body). Recovery periods (i.e., muscle-relaxation breaks) can help prevent the accumulation of fatigue and injury to muscles and their associated structures. Try to break up work with frequent, short recovery periods. Even recovery periods as short as a few seconds on a regular basis are helpful.
Pay close attention to how the work is being performed. Our bodies are stronger, more efficient, and less injury prone when we work in midrange postures. Maintaining midrange working postures simply means sitting or standing upright and not bending the joints into extreme positions. This can be done by trying to keep the neck, back, arms, and wrists within a range of neutral positions. Employees should be encouraged to be comfortable, to change positions, and to stretch when working.
The rules for safe bending, lifting and carrying are important, even for lifting light objects and can be taught to employers and their supervisors.
Dronek, Larry, “Back Injuries: Your Police Force’s Hidden Enemy,” Public Risk, March 1995, Public Risk Management Association
Kanner, Jack S., “Imprinting Work Behavior for High-Risk Employees,” Public Risk, January 1977, Public Risk Management Association.
Rowland, Jeffrey S., “Firefit: Mandatory Exercise Sharpens Firefighting Form in Fairfax City,” Public Risk, January/February 1990, Public Risk Management Association
Work Safe: An Owner’s Manual for Backs, Worker’s Compensation Board of British Columbia