Words: Uma Basso
Many of us do not think twice about carrying a box of materials or heavy objects through the jobsite. After all, how tough can it be to pick up a box and bring it from one place on the job to another? In the world of construction, lifting and carrying heavy objects is just par for the course in construction.
That is until someone gets hurt.
When employers instill good safety practices with their crew, employees stay safe and productive on the job. While creating a safety program may be costly at first, employers realize greater benefits overall as there are fewer injuries. This can increase job profitability. Based on the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), injuries on the jobsite account for 6% to 9% of total project costs, while a safety program accounts for 2.5% of project costs. Further, an OSHA study found that companies can save between $4 and $6 in indirect job costs for every $1 spent to prevent jobsite injuries.
As the saying goes, “safety isn’t expensive; it’s priceless.” As an employer, building a robust safety program is well worth the investment of time and money.
When tasked with lifting and carrying materials, there are several practices you can implement with your crew to help prevent injury. These practices start with looking at the situation and the jobsite’s surroundings.
A few questions workers should ask before lifting or carrying heavy materials include.
Can one person carry the load?
Workers should decide if the load is light enough to be lifted and carried by one person. If this cannot be done safely by one person, can two people manage this, or is the equipment necessary?
When the load needs to be carried by two people, it is important to employ a few best practices.
- Communication – Both workers should be clear on how the material will be lifted, such as the handles or the bottom. Before moving the object, be sure to decide who calls out the lift and carry commands and how the material will be lifted. Not doing so can cause injury to one, or both, workers.
- Have a plan – Beyond communication, have a clear plan in place for lifting, carrying, and placing the material down. Decide ahead of time which walkway will be taken, which worker takes which side and who goes first, and where the material will be placed. A worker can get hurt if you make these decisions on the fly.
- Consider your teammate – When two people are lifting and carrying a load, the safest choice is having two people of similar height on the task. If the workers have significantly different heights, it affects how high they can lift and carry a heavy object. This can cause one, or both, workers to perform this task at a height that is not comfortable or safe for them.
Assess the area
Before lifting or moving heavy materials, taking a good look at the surrounding area for hazards is key. Ensure that the walkway is free of debris to prevent a fall, especially if the material blocks the view of those carrying it.
Also, inspect the path for anything that may cause someone to trip or lose their balance. On a jobsite, heavy machinery and equipment may have broken the pavement, leaving holes, dips, or loose items that can cause someone to trip or fall. You should inspect walkways to ensure that they are not slippery due to water or ice and look for standing water or puddles that may hide holes.
Beyond the walkway, look at the area where the material will be placed. Be sure that the location is clear of any debris and has a clear and stable spot where the material can be lowered safely by one or two people.
You should also consider how the weight of what you are carrying is distributed. Is it evenly spaced and is the center of gravity where you expect?
Stretch your muscle before you go!
Whether you lift and carry materials as part of your daily routine or only as needed, you must stretch ahead of time. Focus on the key muscle areas used when lifting, such as your legs, stomach, chest, and arms. Encourage workers to make sure their bodies are ready to lift to help them stay safe and prevent injury.
Failing to stretch, check your surroundings, and plan the move may result in serious injuries to a worker’s head or back.
ESTABLISH A TRAINING PROGRAM
As an employer, training your staff on how to properly lift and carry heavy objects goes a long way to keeping everyone safe. Whether or not this is a part of their daily routine, employers should ensure that all people on the jobsite have the knowledge they need to safely lift and transport heavy items. This is especially the case for employees that don’t lift and carry regularly.
Training program – Building a robust training program extends beyond photos and written instructions. It should also include demonstrations, such as YouTube videos, to supplement training protocols.
Bruce Mackinnon, CD, the Regional Health and Safety Manager for AGF Access Group, Inc., also suggests incorporating Toolbox Talks as part of an employer’s regular training program. These are informal meetings that include all site team members and help develop a culture around safety in the workplace. Training may be centered around a specific safety issue on a jobsite or general safety protocol reminders.
Safety based observations – Employers should take their training programs one step further and formally see employees perform tasks to ensure they are safe doing this. It is helpful to document these observations and use them to communicate corrections that can help keep workers safe.
PROMOTE GOOD HEALTH
The benefits of good health extend beyond the Jobsite. Your employees’ overall good health can help prevent physical injuries while they work, but it has also added benefits to their mental and emotional wellbeing. Staying in shape can help employees get a good night’s sleep and promote good eating habits, which can help them stay mentally focused on their job responsibilities.
Starting a wellness program is an effective way to promote good health. These programs help employees develop healthy habits by encouraging them to participate in programs focused on stretching, walking, or working out at the gym during the week.
WHAT IS THE BOTTOM LINE WITH LIFT AND CARRY SAFETY?
While safety programs may seem costly at first, employers can realize great benefits when employees stay safe. Robust protocols and training keep costs down and improve overall job profitability.
Employer safety programs teach workers about proper lift and carry, and other techniques to keep them safe and free of injury. Perhaps the greatest benefit is healthy employees performing better on the job and in turn make better decisions.