Lifting and back safety in the workplace

Lifting at work is good for you, right? “Because I lift at work, I can avoid the trip to the gym.” Unfortunately, this can be a common misconception.

During resistance training or weight training, micro tears in the muscle occur. With proper rest and recovery, the body repairs itself and these small tears can lead to stronger muscle over time. However, adequate rest and recovery is crucial.

lifting-fulcrum2While at work, if you lift as little as two times a minute, your total repetitions would equal 480 per day over only a four-hour period. Now imagine you are in the gym performing the same resistance training exercise (i.e. power clean) for four hours a day with 480 repetitions per day and for five days a week. Both the frequency and the duration of lifting while at work more than likely far outweigh the frequency and duration at the gym. This is far too much for the body to handle!

Excessive force

Along with frequency and duration, when lifting excessive weight (exerting excessive force), the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, etc. are likely to become stressed beyond acceptable limits. Excessive force is especially concerning and is far more likely to create injury than just repetition and duration alone. When safe or acceptable human limits are exceeded, the risk for one of the biggest causes of injury in the country increase. According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index for 2016, overexertion injuries account for about 25 percent of all non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses, costing over $15 billion dollars. (Overexertion injuries include injuries due to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying and throwing objects).

Work doesn’t have a different effect on the body just because it is work. Work, much like resistance training or any other physical activity, can cause injury. Workers can be thought of as “industrial athletes” and are just as prone to injury as other athletes. (Think about how often you have heard of your favorite athletes sitting out of a game due to injury). Regardless of the activity or job task, if human capabilities are exceeded the end result is increased discomfort, fatigue and injury over time.

Proper technique

The simple answer is often, “just use proper lifting technique.” Although proper lifting techniques and training are important, these alone are ineffective in preventing injuries (Martimo et al, 2008). The most effective method of injury prevention is to eliminate the risks for injury. This may include avoiding the lift, reducing the weight lifted, distance traveled, etc. When the force is increased and the body is in awkward postures for extended duration, the risk for injury increases.

Ideally, an ergonomic evaluation should be conducted. That will help reveal far more effective controls to minimize lifting, which will have a far greater impact on fatigue, discomfort and inefficiency and reduce the likelihood for injury. Lift tables, conveyors, vacuum lifts, hand trucks and carts are just a few examples of equipment that can minimize manual lifting. These should be implemented whenever feasible. Designing the job task by implementing controls that minimize lifting are most ideal and should be highly considered. Request an ergonomic evaluation of lifting tasks (free of charge) to determine if safe lifting limits are exceeded and changes to the workstation task, tools or environment need to change to prevent injury.

Take a look at the CSU Ergonomics Back Safety webpage, where you’ll have find additional information on back safety and safe lifting techniques as well as access to online training. Upon request, instructor-led training can also be provided and can be designed to be job- and task-specific. Contact the ergonomics administrator, Frank Gonzales, with questions at, to discuss and request a job-specific, instructor-led training session.