September 2011: Eye on Safety


Eye on Safety

Avoiding costly and painful heavy-lifting injuries

Each year, Americans spend at least $50 billion treating low-back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes.

As we age, our bodies naturally are more inclined to develop low-back problems, starting as early as age 30. Additionally, daily events and habits can accelerate or cause back problems. Those include traumatic events, poor posture, poor physical condition, improper body mechanics, lifting awkward objects and assuming unnatural positions.

To avoid costly claims to the employer as well as missed time from work for the employee, workers frequently must review and practice safe-lifting practices.

  • Think before you lift. Mentally plan how you will physically lift an object, mapping out hand-placement and lifting leverage.
  • Test the object’s weight. Be sure the item to be lifted is within your range of capabilities. If it’s difficult to hold the object while standing, it might be impossible to safely move the object. However, if you will need to carry the object any distance, first confirm that you have a clear walking path.
  • Ask for help. If the object’s shape or weight is questionable, remain safe, rather than injured, and request assistance from a co-worker.
  • Lift from your legs. Use the stronger leg muscles by bending the knees, not the back. Support the back by maintaining core strength with the abdominal muscles while lifting, and maintain a neutral lumbar spinal curve in your lower back by keeping your back straight while in the upward lifting motion.
  • Keep objects close. Hold items tightly to the body to avoid putting extra strain on your back muscle.
  • Keep it steady.  Once in motion with an item, avoid twisting and bending as well as rapid or jerky movements.
  • Maintain good balance. Keep feet about shoulder width apart to maintain sturdy balance throughout the lifting and moving process.
  • Keep breathing. Avoid holding your breath while lifting, and concentrate on maintaining normal breathing.

In addition to remaining cognizant of the aforementioned safe-lifting tips, many other lifestyle habits can help workers maintain back – and overall – health and wellness.

Exercise is the best way to prevent back pain and back injury. Working out with a partner or a spouse can increase accountability as well as enjoyment to help implement regular exercise as a lifestyle change. Routine physical activity not only will stave off back injuries, but also is key to recovering from simple strains, aches and pains you might experience. Exercise also can improve overall health and wellness. Be sure to warm up and stretch before all physical activity, including prior to lifting heavy objects.

Avoid prolonged, awkward postures during and outside of heavy lifting to avoid injury. Additionally, change positions frequently if sitting or standing in an uncomfortable position.

When lifting heavy objects, it’s imperative to take time to think about your work tasks and determine if there is a better, safer way of doing them with less risk, or if you need to ask for help. However, if you do encounter back pain, maintain normal activity as much as possible, even when in pain, and avoid bed rest.

Gary Zigenfus is senior VP and national therapy director at Concentra. Visit for more information.

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