Manual material handling

Virtually every job involves some handling of materials. You likely lift the odd box, move piles of folders, or carry a variety of objects. Your employees, too, are frequently engaging in material handling activities of one kind or another.

Almost every manual material handling activity carries some potential for injury, from minor to severe. That's why at every stage in the process is essential for workers to understand and follow best practices for safe material handling.

Safe lifting and shifting

When it comes to most manual material handling jobs, the most important lesson is how to lift and lower objects safely. This isn't as simple as many of your workers probably assume. And a lot of them could be out there right now lifting any old way and putting their backs at risk. Unless you train them in the specifics of safe lifting, you're likely to experience a higher injury rate—particularly back injuries—than you would if employees were lifting properly. Safe lifting is a four-step process that involves not only the actual lift, but also preparing to.

Step 1. Preparing

Train your employees to follow these steps when preparing to lift and move an object:

  • Know in advance where you are going to set the load down, and whether stairs or ramps are involved
  • Make sure the entire path is free of obstructions or slipping hazards
  • Watch out for nails, splinters, or anything else that could cause injury
  • Wear appropriate protective gear—gloves that will provide a safe grip, and safety shoes in case of a dropped load
  • Think your way through the entire procedure

Step 2. Lifting

Teach them the safe lifting technique:
  • Face the load with feet about shoulder-width apart, one slightly ahead of the other
  • Bend at the knees and keep the back straight (not vertical, but in a forward lean), with chin tucked in so that the neck and head follow the same straight line
  • Grasp the load and draw it close to the body, with arms and elbows tucked to the sides
  • Lift gradually and smoothly, using the leg muscles, not the back muscles, to power the lift

Step 3. Moving

Emphasize safe carrying rules, such as:

  • Move steadily and slowly, keeping the load close to the body and balanced
  • Turn the entire body when changing direction, as turning only the upper body causes severe strain
  • When walking through doorways or between objects, adjust the grip or turn the load slightly so that fingers won't be trapped between it and the other surface

Step 4. Placing

And finally, train workers to place loads safely at the end of the move:

  • To lower the load, reverse the lifting steps: bending the knees, keeping the back line straight and the feet in the proper position
  • If the load must be placed at shoulder height or above, plan to rest it at about waist height and change the grip before completing the lift
  • To make sure that fingers are not pinched by the load when setting it down, let one edge or corner rest on floor or table and then slide hands up the side of the object before completing the placement

Other considerations

Besides knowing the proper techniques of lifting, moving, and placing a load, it is important to fairly assess both the scope of the job and one's own strength. Encourage employees to ask for help if the load is too heavy or awkward (too bulky or too long) to manage safely alone.

When employees perform a team lift, one person gives the orders to lift, turn, and set down. All members of the team perform these tasks in unison. They should move slowly and steadily, keeping the load level and weight evenly distributed, without changing their grips while carrying.


By: Mike Huss

Risk Solution Services Consultant



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