Manual Material Handling: Posture & Body Mechanics

Revised 2021.11.23

You may find that you know much of what you will find on this page, but you may not always apply what you know.
  • Using proper body mechanics can be slower than using more risky body mechanics.
  • Risky body mechanics don’t always cause pain right away.
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).
At the link below, you will find illustrations of some of the lifting techniques we will be discussing.


** in the techniques below indicates that there is a corresponding illustration at the link

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.**

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

The greater the horizontal distance between the object and your upper body, the greater the strain will be.
  • Dress for success! Ideally, an object you are carrying should be right up against your body. You may not want to do this if the object is dirty, so wear an apron or clothes that are appropriate for the task.
  • 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 puts extra strain on your back but is sometimes necessary to minimize the horizontal distance mentioned in rule 3 above. Whenever 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. You may have difficulty if knee bending results in hips being lower than the knees.
  • A longer handled tool may allow you to maintain proper body mechanics if reaches are required below [or above] the safe lifting zone.
  • If you need to lean forward, 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 that you are reaching into.**
    • 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