Be familiar with at-risk areas of the body
Be familiar with strategies to minimize the hazards of lifting, holding and handling materials
The most common injuries that occur when lifting, holding or handling materials typically involve three areas of the body.
The back and spine: The spine is made up of the bones (vertebrae), with joints in between that include flexible “jelly”- filled pads called intervertebral discs. These joints allow for back flexibility, but they also are vulnerable to overuse and injury. When you lift, bend forward or stretch upward or outward, your back muscles work harder; ligaments stretch and discs get squeezed. These movements can, over time, cause the discs to become weak and even rupture, and may result in injury to the back muscles. This may cause chronic pain and discomfort.
Shoulders and neck: Carrying even light loads above shoulder level can quickly lead to tired and sore shoulder and neck muscles. The heavier the load, the quicker these muscles will become tired and at risk for injury. Carrying or resting a load on the shoulders can also cause neck and shoulder injuries. Shoulder joints are lubricated by fluid-filled sacs called bursa. Continual stress on the shoulders will squeeze the bursa, causing them to become stiff, swollen and inflamed. If this isn’t dealt with, it may become impossible to lift the arms.
Arms, hands and wrists: When a load is carried manually, the soft tissues of the hands and wrists can be cut or worn. By carrying a large or awkward load, the hands and wrists are forced into stressful, dangerous positions.
A certain amount of manual handling is necessary at every construction site, but employees can reduce the possibility of an injury by lifting, holding and handling safely. Some cost-effective ways to manage risks include reducing how often and long these tasks are performed and using safe form when carrying loads. Here are some other changes that limit injury on site:
Materials or work process: Using materials, electrical components or work methods that are less labor-intensive can reduce risk of injury. Discuss these ideas because changes may need approval from a supervisor, the general contractor or even the architect.
Tools or equipment: Material-handling devices for various kinds of construction can be purchased or rented. Devices include special round handles and cushioned grips for carrying heavy objects as well as powered and nonpowered carts and dollies. Mechanical, hydraulic and vacuum lifts can also be used to position most electrical components and materials.
Work rules: Work rules are in place to help keep workers safe, so learn which rules impact material handling and be sure to follow them. Store materials at a convenient height off the ground and transport them using safety protocols. Storage areas can be organized to minimize the number of times materials are moved around the site. For instance, when new materials arrive, place them close to where they will be used so they don’t need to be moved again.
Training: Take advantage of any ergonomic training to help identify risky behaviors and alternate methods of movement and lifting. Employees should know the limit of how much and long they can lift while not putting excess stress on their body.
What are the most common areas of injury associated with lifting, holding and handling?
How does bending and lifting affect the intervertebral discs in the back?
How can these injuries be avoided?
What training would help to minimize the risk of injury?