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Safe Lifting to Prevent Back Injuries

Improper lifting is one of the leading causes of back injuries. In fact, most people will suffer from back pain at some point in their life. The goal is to take care of your back before the pain develops.

The human spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. Vertebrae are separated by spinal discs. The vertebrae and discs cushion and protect the spinal cord.

The spine needs a neutral posture similar to a gentle S curve. Any posture that does not allow the back to maintain the gentle S curve can cause back strain.


Risk factors that can lead to a back injury include lifting or the use of extreme force to move an object, repetitive motions, or awkward postures such as stretching to reach for a box or object.

The majority of spinal problems develop over time, rather than with one wrong move. Therefore, safe lifting is critical.

Consider the following steps when a load needs to be moved or lifted from one position or surface to another.

1. Evaluate the load - make sure that the load is safe enough to move; if not, find someone to help or use a lift assist device (e.g., handcart, overhead crane, forklift, pallet jack, etc.).

2. Stand close to the load with the feet shoulder width apart and the toes pointed outward.

3. Squat down next to the object by bending at the knees and hips. Remember to maintain the spine's gentle S curve.

Pull the load close to the body with a firm grip.

Contract the stomach muscles to support the back, keep the head up, and use the legs to make the lift, not the back's muscles. Keep the head up, this allows the back to maintain its natural S curve.

In addition to safe lifting, remember to:

  • Keep the eyes on the path of travel while carrying a load.
  • Avoid twisting motions in favor of taking short pivot steps.

Use mechanical devices when loads are too heavy for one person (e.g., handcar, forklift, overhead crane, pallet jack, etc.)

Source: Joe Mlynek is president of Progressive Safety Services LLC, Gates Mills, OH:, and content creation expert for Safety Made Simple Inc., Olathe, KS;

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Safety Tip of the Week is edited by Managing Editor Tucker Scharfenberg and published each Monday by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL

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