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Proper Lifting and Carrying Techniques and Safety Tips

Safety precautions to remember when your job requires lifting and carrying, to prevent potential discomfort, aggravation, strains, sprains and injury.

Professional woman holding box, walking through office building.

More than 20% of all workplace injuries involve overexertion due to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing. Lifting and carrying heavy items is one of the leading causes of lost-time injuries for workers in a professional or office environment.

Lifting and carrying loads heavier than 50 pounds as well as using an improper lifting technique greatly increase your risk of injury.

OSHA General Duty Clause 5(a)(1) 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 does not have a standard which sets limits on how much weight a person may lift or carry. It is important that employers provide time, resources and solutions to employees that will allow them to lift and carry required loads safely. It is every employee’s responsibility to practice proper lifting techniques while at work and to ask for help when needed.

Man if office building lifting a box incorrectly and awkwardly.

The difficulty with assessing the risk associated with lifting or carrying at work is that weight alone does not determine the risk for a potential injury.

Other factors include:

  • whether you bend or twist while lifting or setting items down
  • where the load is located when you pick it up (the floor, a table, etc.)
  • how high an item is lifted
  • how close (or far away) from your body you hold the load while lifting and when carrying
  • how often you are lifting or carrying heavier items
  • how long you hold or carry the load

Depending on these factors, a particular item that is safe to lift at one time has the potential to cause injury to the same person another time.

Using a proper lifting and carrying technique every time is essential to back injury prevention. Carrying loads on one shoulder, under an arm, or in one hand, creates uneven pressure on the spine. Bending at the waist to lift or set down anything puts tremendous pressure on the vertebrae as the lower back has to support your body weight and the weight of the load.

Man walking through office building carrying a box correctly.

Even if you are just “moving a few boxes from here to there”, it’s important to plan your lift and the route you will carry them.

Familiarize yourself with what you are lifting. Be aware of the general size, shape and weight. Examine what you will be lifting for potential hazards like sharp corners or slippery spots. Decide how you will hold the item to lift and carry. Look for handles or adequate handholds and determine if you need to wear gloves. Know exactly where you will set the load down.

Plan how you will perform the lift. Determine whether or not it’s safe to lift on your own. Ask for help, if needed. Ensure that the shoes and clothing you are wearing will allow you to perform the lift safely.

Walk the planned route to make sure the pathway is clear by checking for slip, trip and fall hazards like torn carpet, loose tiles, poor lighting, spills, open filing cabinets, or extension cords. Remove any obstacles you find or plan an alternate path. Notify co-workers near your route that you will be coming through with a heavy load so they are aware and do not unexpectedly step into your path. Open any doors that you need to walk through ahead of time, or ask someone to hold the door open while you carry the load.

Graphic that shows the correct way to lift a box by bending at the knees.
  1. When you are ready to perform the lift, get as close as possible and position yourself so your feet are near the base of the item and center yourself in front of the load. Your feet should be spread shoulder width apart.
  2. Bend at your knees and squat down, keeping your back as straight as possible. Get a good grip. Do not lift or carry items using only 1-2 fingers, use your whole hand to hold.
  3. Grasp the load firmly with both arms and slowly stand up by straightening your legs, pushing with your leg muscles, while maintaining a straight posture with your back. If you can’t lift slowly, you can’t lift safely. Keep your elbows close to your sides and keep the load close to your body.
  4. If you must set the item down below waist level, then follow the same procedures in reverse order. Bend at the knees, not at the hips.

Do not twist your body as you lift and do not jerk or snatch the load as you lift. Don't stack things up so high that you can't see directly in front of you. Don’t bend at the waist to lift or set down a load. If you begin to lose your grip, set the load down safely and reassess before you try the lift again.

If you must turn while holding or carrying, turn your feet so your whole body turns. Do not turn at the waist. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.

When lifting one load that is heavier than 50 pounds, use at least two people for the lift. If you are lifting with a partner, the same safe lifting techniques apply, with one person on either side of the heavy load. Communicate clearly so you both lift and set down at the same time.

Young worker carrying a box filled with binders through an office building.

If carrying smaller items that may be tricky to hold onto, like binders or office supplies, put them into a box so there’s only one thing to carry, and not several items at once. If items are packed into heavy boxes, consider repacking the boxes so they weigh less. Do not lift and carry more boxes than you can safely handle. Divide the load to make it lighter.

Get help when needed. Do not lift or carry things you don’t feel comfortable with, no matter how “light” you think they may seem to others. Do not ask a co-worker to add more boxes on top of a box you have already lifted.

Avoid lifting heavy items over your head to attempt to place them in storage. Instead place these heavier items on a lower shelf to make it easier for future retrieval.

If you feel fatigued, set the load down and rest. Do not let yourself get so fatigued that you cannot set the item down safely.

Use a hand truck, dolly or furniture pads to move heavy items. Pushing is usually better than pulling. Pushing will allow you to use large muscle groups and apply more force to the load, while pulling has a greater risk of strain and injury.

Worker in professional clothing pushing a handcart with two boxes on it.

MARCOM's Safe Lifting in Office Environments Video Program provides the information employees need to protect their backs when they are lifting and carrying, which is something we do all the time, and we normally don't think twice about it.

The safety video program comes with a quiz, a scheduling and attendance form, a training certificate, and an employee training log. Click the button below to learn more.

Safe Lifting Video Program

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