Manual Material Handling: Posture & Body Mechanics

Many of us know these techniques already but don't always use them because performing a task properly is often slower than taking a the short term. We must remember that:
  • Any time saved by taking a risky short cut is quickly lost if we get hurt and are unable to work.
  • Back injuries usually develop slowly over time so we won't feel pain immediately.
Even by using proper body mechanics, some objects will be too heavy to move without help.
  • Get help from a co-worker.
  • Split up the load into smaller, lighter loads.
  • Find some other way to move the object (e.g. cart, dolly, etc).
  • If you have concerns about the safety of a task, discuss it with someone who can answer your questions BEFORE performing the task (e.g. supervisor, JHSC member or Health & Safety Representative).
The link below contains excellent illustrations of many of the lifting techniques we will be discussing. Those lifting techniques are marked with **. Have a look before reading further.

1) Activate core muscles

To protect your spine, tighten your abdominal muscles. This will generally activate the rest of your core muscles.

2) Maintain the natural inward curve of your low back**

This curve has a tendency to flatten when you bend or sit, increasing the strain on the low back.
Looking forward (not down) during a lift helps to maintain this curve. (Good photos in the link I mentioned earlier.)

3) Keep objects close to your body when lifting and carrying**

The farther the object is from your body, the greater the strain will be.
  • Slide objects close to you before lifting them
  • When squatting to lift, do not let your knees get between yourself and the load. If the load is not too wide, spread your legs apart so you can bring the load close to your belly. (NOTE: This is difficult to do while wearing a dress or skirt. Wear comfortably fitting pants.)

4) Work with your upper body as close to upright as possible**

Leaning forwards or sideways puts extra strain on your back. Wherever possible:
  • Position items that you handle so that your grip is in the safe lifting zone (between mid-thigh and shoulder height).
  • To minimize upper extremity strain, heavier objects are best handled in the lower end of the safe lifting zone.
  • Keep loads that you must handle manually off of the floor (unless there are handles in the safe lifting zone).
  • For work below the safe lifting zone, bend your knees, squat or kneel. Consider a longer handled tool.
  • If you can't work upright, resting a hand or elbow on your knee or another object will take some of the load off of your back. Other objects that you could lean on:
    • a nearby table or chair.
    • the top of a deep container into which you must reach.
    • any surface within a comfortable reach.
  • For lighter objects that can be handled with one hand, use the golfer’s lift.

5) Minimize twisting of your spine**

Move your feet or swivel your chair instead of twisting at the waist or neck, Your spine is twisted if your hips and shoulders are NOT facing in the same direction.

6) Push, don't pull, whenever possible

Pulling an object you are facing puts more strain on back muscles than pushing it. Exceptions:
  • Some objects don’t move as easily when pushed, especially when terrain is bumpy or rough.
  • Pushing may not be safe if the object you are pushing obstructs your vision and you can’t see where you are going.
  • If you must pull something, try to use 2 hands to avoid twisting.

7) Use sudden quick movements with care

If not performed carefully, sudden quick movements will put more strain on your back than moving more slowly.

Unexpected movements are more likely to cause injuries than deliberate movements.
  • Wear shoes with good traction and support and keep walking surfaces clear to avoid slips, trips or falls.
  • Do not jump from loading docks or high vehicles.
  • Make sure objects you are moving do not shift during transport.
  • Proper storage will minimize injuries related to sudden movements to catch falling objects.

8) Use a footrest for prolonged standing