Lifting heavy items should be done carefully in order to prevent injury.
In fact, 38.5% of work-related musculoskeletal issues are related to back injury, with improper lifting being one of the main causes.
Therefore, it’s important to learn proper lifting techniques to keep yourself safe at work and at home.
This article discusses proper lifting techniques and common lifting problems, and provides useful tips.
What is the best lifting technique to move something heavy?
The best lifting technique is to squat down and use the strength of your legs — instead of your back — to lift the object off of the ground.
That said, you should only lift items that you’re comfortable lifting. If you’re unsure, it’s best to ask another person for help or use other machinery (e.g., a lift).
What are the OSHA guidelines for lifting techniques?
If you’ve decided that it’s safe to lift the item by yourself, you’ll want to follow the proper lifting technique guidelines outlined by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
1. Plan ahead
Before moving something heavy, it’s important to think and plan first.
First, look at the item that you’re about to lift and ask yourself these questions:
- How heavy is it?
- Is it awkward to carry for one person?
- Where am I planning on putting this item? Am I going to be carrying it a far distance? Are there doors that will need to be opened when I’m carrying it?
- Are there proper handles? Do I need safety gloves?
- Do I have equipment (e.g., a lift) that can do this job safely?
- Should this be carried by more than one person?
- Are there any obstructions that should be moved first?
Taking note of your environment, the item you plan to lift, and other considerations can help you decide if this item is a one- or two-person job or requires other assistance, such as machinery.
Just like you’d warm up before a workout, you should also warm up and stretch your muscles before lifting.
Ideally, spend a few minutes doing some dynamic stretching (e.g., lunges, lower back rotations, arm circles) to prepare your muscles and get your blood flowing.
To lift safely, you first want to make sure that you’re in the right positioning.
You’ll also want to make sure that you bend your knees, squat down to grab the item, and use the strength of your legs to do most of the lifting. This can help to lower back and other muscular injury.
Here are the steps to safely lift a heavy item:
- Stand as close to the item as possible. This will prevent you from overstraining your back. Stand in front of the item with a wide base of support (feet at least shoulder width apart).
- Bend your knees and keep your back upright, shoulders back, and head looking straight forward. There should be a natural curve in your lower back. This will help ensure you’re using your legs rather than your back to lift the item.
- Place both hands on the handles or sides of the item.
- When ready, look straight forward and push into the balls of your feet as you slowly straighten your legs. Avoid twisting your back.
- Hold the item as close to your body as possible around belly button level, with your elbows to your sides.
If needed, slowly take small steps to walk to the spot you plan to put the item. If it’s far, you should consider placing the item on a cart or other form of transportation.
If you need to change directions, lead with your hips and ensure your shoulders stay aligned with your hips. Continue to keep the load as close to your body as possible.
5. Set down
Setting an item down is the same movement as lifting but in reverse:
- Stop walking and stand squarely in front of the spot you intend to place the item.
- Slowly bend your knees and squat as you lower toward the ground. Keep the item close to your body, brace your core, and keep your head looking straight forward.
- Place the item on the ground fully before lifting up again.
If the item will be placed above the ground (e.g., on a counter or table), walk up to the surface and place it gently on top. If it’s slightly lower than hip level, be sure to still bend your knees and lower your body to place the item down safely.
Common lifting problems
While no one intends to hurt themselves, it’s quite common to injure yourself while lifting heavy objects. The most common lifting problems include:
- lifting with your back
- bending forward and keeping your legs straight to pick up an item
- twisting while lifting or carrying a heavy item
- lifting a heavy item that’s above shoulder height
- carrying an item that’s too heavy or large
- using a partial grip (e.g., two fingers)
- lifting items when you’re tired, fatigued, or already injured
- holding your breath
- trying to lift and move the item too quickly
By lifting properly and avoiding these common lifting problems, you can help lower your risk of injury.
Tips and considerations
To prevent injury, consider these helpful tips:
- When in doubt, ask for assistance.
- Make a plan from start to finish (lifting to placing down).
- Brace your core when lifting.
- Always bend your knees to lift an item, even if it looks light.
- Check the weight of the item by reading the weight on the label (if possible).
- Ideally, use a lifting device to assist you.
- If you’re going to move the item a far distance, use a cart, vehicle, or other piece of machinery.
- Always stretch and warm up before lifting. Your safety comes before work or other obligations.
- Use personal protective equipment (e.g., steel-toed shoes, gloves), as needed.
- Take breaks if you’re tired or plan to move multiple objects.
- Avoid holding an item for a long period of time.
- If needed, ask a person to open any doors or move obstructions out of the way.
The bottom line
To ensure your safety, always practice safe lifting techniques.
The best lifting techniques involve using your legs to lift heavy objects instead of your back, since your legs are some of your strongest muscles while your back is more susceptible to injury.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re planning ahead, only lifting objects you feel comfortable lifting by yourself, and being just as mindful when you place the item down as when you lift it.
And remember, you should always ask for assistance if you have any concerns. It’s better to be safe than to risk injuring yourself.