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Ergonomic Tips: Materials Handling

1. Eight out of 10 adults will suffer low-back problems at some point in their lives, but don't be overly alarmed by this statistic. Most back problems are minor and go away within a few days or weeks, with proper treatment.

2. Proper treatment for mild low back discomfort includes 1) the use of aspirin or other non-prescription medicines, 2) spinal manipulations, and 3) low-stress exercises. Always consult a physician regarding the proper treatment.

3. One of the worst things to do if experiencing low back discomfort is to lie in bed until the pain goes away. Extended bed rest can result in the low back muscles weakening, when you want to be strengthening those muscles.

4. Ergonomic Terms. The spine is a series of bones stacked one on top of another. In between each bone is a shock absorber called a disc. Pressure placed on these discs, through manual handling or other activities, can cause them to bulge and deform. This can lead to disc-related back injuries as the bulging disc presses against nerves in the low back.

5. Ergonomic Terms. The spine is a series of bones stacked one on top of another. In between each bone is a shock absorber called a disc. The L5/S1 disc is the lowest disc in the spinal column. It is located between the 5th lumbar vertebrae (bone) and the 1st sacral vertebrae. Because it is the lowest disc in the back, it always has the highest compressive forces placed against it, and it is consequently the disc that is most frequently injured in the back.

6. Ergonomic Terms. The muscles in the low back are called the erector spinae muscles. As the name suggests, the function of these very small muscles is to keep the torso erect. If we bend at the back (stoop instead of squat) we ask these muscles to work harder than they may be capable of, thereby increasing back injury risk.

7. Muscle sprains to the erector spinae muscles are the most common type of back injury. Fortunately muscle injuries tend to heal quickly and completely.

8. Why do our legs hurt sometimes when we injure our backs? The reason for this is that a bulging disc may press against a nerve that travels down into the legs. We feel the pain where the nerve goes, not necessarily where the point of injury occurs.

9. Although most back problems are minor and go away in a matter of days, disc-related back problems can be very serious and can impact a person for their entire life.

10. Where do most back injuries occur? Most back injuries, whether they are muscle strains or disc-related injuries, occur in the low back area. There are at least three reasons for this. 1) The muscles in the low back are very small, and are subject to strains when overexerted. 2) The discs in the low back bear the heaviest load (compressive force) with or without lifting, due to their location. 3) The low back is the pivot point when we bend to lift, or twist during a lift. Knowing why most back problems occur in the low back is the first step towards avoiding back problems.

11. Strengthening the low back muscles and the abdominal muscles through exercise is one of the best ways to avoid back injuries.

12. How much weight is too much weight? Use the following as a general guideline, but always remember to never lift more weight than you feel comfortable handling. If bending is required to handle the object, object weights should not exceed approximately 20 lb.

13. How much weight is too much weight? Use the following as a general guideline, but always remember to never lift more weight than you feel comfortable handling. If no bending is required, and the object does not have to be handled above mid-chest level, up to 30 lb is acceptable.

14. How much weight is too much weight? Use the following as a general guideline, but always remember to never lift more weight than you feel comfortable handling. If an object has to be handled above shoulder level, no more than 15 lb should be considered acceptable.

15. How much weight is too much weight? Use the following as a general guideline, but always remember to never lift more weight than you feel comfortable handling. If an object is handled while seated, the object weight should not exceed 10 lb.

16. Avoid any lifting while seated. Always try to stand up.

17. If an object is heavy, get help to lift it!

18. Avoid lifting an object with one hand if you can reasonably use two hands to perform the lift. It has been proposed that back injuries could be reduced by about 7% if two hands were used to lift, rather than one hand.

19. The postures most associated with low back complaints are bending, twisting, and sitting for extended periods.

20. Proper lifting technique consists of the following: 1) Keep the object as close to the body as possible when lifting it. 2) Bend using the legs rather than the back (squat don't stoop). 3) Always test the weight of the object before lifting it. 4) Pivot using the feet instead of twisting at the waist.

21. Proper Lifting Technique. It is important to keep an object close to the body when lifting the object. As the weight of an object moves away from the body, it increases compressive forces on the discs in the low back, and the amount of weight we can safely handle decreases significantly. Handling loads close to the body may be the most important component of safe lifting.

22. Proper Lifting Technique. Bending at the knees (squatting) instead of bending at the waist (stooping) can reduce compressive forces on the discs in the low back area.

23. Proper Lifting Technique. Test the weight of the object before lifting the object. The muscles of the body "prepare" for a lift based on the anticipated weight of the object. By testing the weight of an object (Is it heavy or light?) you give your muscles the opportunity to prepare for the job ahead.

24. Some tips on filing. Avoid over-packing filing cabinets. Stuffed cabinets can result in increased grip forces and muscular effort to remove materials.

25. Avoid storing materials in the leg well of the workstation. This can result in very awkward postures trying to retrieve the objects.

26. If objects such as printer paper boxes need to be transported to a workstation, use a cart instead of carrying the object.

27. Never carry items up/down stairs. This significantly increases slip/fall risk. Use an elevator instead.

28. If any significant amount of time has to be spent working near floor level (e.g., examining files in bottom drawers of filing cabinets), kneel rather than bend. Better still, remove the necessary materials and place them at a working height not requiring the bent posture.

29. Avoid any handling higher than 175 cm (70 inches).

30. Avoid movements while seated that cause you to sit and twist in the chair. Swivel in the seat, don't twist in the seat.

31. Twisting while seated is one of the most stressful postures your back can get into. The reason for this is that when the back is bent (as is the case when seated), the ligaments that connect the bones of the back can be stretched beyond their "safe" range.

32. Back belts are becoming widely used among workers who perform heavy lifting routinely throughout the day. The benefits of back belts is still uncertain. However, use of a back belt for seated workers, as a means to avoid or recover from a back injury, is NOT recommended.

33. Learn how to move. Avoid sudden, jerking motions that suddenly increases stress on joints. This does not mean to move slowly, just smoothly.

34. Learn how to move. Move the entire body rather than "locking" part of the body in place (always remember to move your feet when you move).

35. Learn how to move. Try to keep your upper body weight always centered over the pelvis bones. Avoid reaches out away from the body. The body gets weak and stresses increase whenever we work away from the body.

36. Some tips on filing. When attaching papers, use staples instead of paper clips. Paper clips come loose and add bulk to files.

37. Some tips on filing. When removing an item from a file, pull the file only part way out so it will not have to be refiled.

38. Some tips on filing. When you take an item out of a file, write an identifying name on the item to avoid mis-filing when the item is returned to the file.

39. Some tips on filing. When refiling, put the most recent item in the front of the file (the most recent item is typically wanted most frequently).

40. Some tips on filing. Use color coding to reduce mis-filing.

41. For any handling activity, try to grip the object using a power grip (like you would grip a hammer) instead of a pinch grip (like you would grip a pencil). A power grip reduces stresses on the hands, and literally makes you stronger (allows you to lift more weight safely).

42. For any handling activity, try to grip the object keeping the wrist straight. The straight wrist is exposed to less stress than a bent wrist, and you are literally stronger when you are able to grasp an object keeping the wrist straight (i.e., you can handle more weight safely).

Ergonomic Tips:  Introduction
Ergonomic Tips:  For Office Workers
Ergonomic Tips:  Workstation
Ergonomic Tips:  Physical Environment
Ergonomic Tips:  Psychosocial
Ergonomic Tips:  Materials Handling
Ergonomic Tips:  Vision & Monitors
Ergonomic Tips:  Personal Risk Factors

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