At the United States Postal Service®, lifting and handling injuries are a major contributor to lost workdays from injuries. Additionally, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, back disorders are one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years. With the Postal Service’s increased emphasis on package delivery, employees and their supervisors must learn how to reduce the potential risk of injury from lifting.
Sometimes it’s not what you are lifting, but how you are lifting that causes a painful back injury. Many back injuries are caused by everyday activities like lifting groceries, picking up a child, or reaching down to pick something up off the floor.
Lifting injuries can also be caused by sudden excessive exertion or develop over time with repetitive movement, such as:
- Bending, twisting, or reaching.
- Lifting loads heavier than an individual’s physical capabilities.
The best way to avoid injury is to lift properly and know what you are lifting. Be sure to get help with a load that you cannot safely lift by yourself. When you find it necessary to lift a heavier object, think carefully about the smartest way to accomplish the task.
Reduce the risk of lifting injuries with the following tips:
- Elevate tubs, trays, and parcels to a raised surface to avoid lifting from the floor. Also, place items you lift frequently into the zone between the knees and shoulders where the body has the most available strength.
- When available, use table platforms, hamper inserts, and mechanical aids like pallet lifts or tilters to avoid bending and reaching.
- Use reach tools for items out of reach.
Also, practice proper lifting techniques to prevent injuries:
- Size up the load. Test the weight and assess the shape and position of the package. If the load is too heavy or awkward to move alone, get help or use a hand cart.
- Plan your lift. Decide on the route you will take and check your unloading spot so that you can anticipate any problems. Make sure your path and field of vision are clear.
- Position yourself correctly. Keep the load as close to the body as possible, maintaining a neutral back posture to avoid bending, while keeping your chin up and lifting with your legs. If possible, place your feet shoulder-width apart and straddle the load. If necessary, break the load into smaller parcels so you can see over it. Tuck in your pelvis and bend at your knees, not at your waist.
- Lift correctly. Let your legs do the work by using your strong thigh muscles to lift, rather than your weaker back. Don’t twist your body if you need to turn. Move your feet instead of your trunk.
- Unload items carefully. If your load must go on the back of a deep shelf, put the load down on the edge and push it into place. If you are placing the item on a lower level, bend your knees and squat as you unload it.
- For a heavy load, do a team lift. Choose one person to oversee the process and tell everyone when to lift, move, and set the load down. Ideally, this person should be the last in line on a long load. If you use a hand truck, make sure it is in good repair before you lift.
- Remove items from deep spaces carefully. To retrieve an item from deep within a box or drawer, tip the container or modify the basic lift procedure. Get as close as you can to the object, squat slightly, and place your bent knees against the box or drawer before you lift. For lighter, smaller objects at the bottom of a deep container, swing one leg straight out behind you, flex the other knee, and use one hand to balance yourself on the edge of the container. Use the other hand to pick up the load.
Practice safe lifting to keep your back healthy and to prevent painful or disabling back injuries. For more information about safe lifting, visit blue.usps.gov/hr/safety/lifting.htm.
— Occupational Safety and Health,
Human Resources, 8-12-21