Stanford University

Safe Materials Handling

Lower back pain is the second most common complaint that sends people to the doctor, according to the National Institutes of Health. In fact, about 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point during their lives.

Completing tasks that require heavy lifting, repetitive stress, bending and twisting, and body vibration increase the risk of developing lower back pain. Poor posture, age, medical conditions, body weight, smoking, and exercise habits may also play a role.

Safe Lifting Reimbursement Fund
  1. The Safe Lifting/Handling Equipment Reimbursement Fund Program is intended to provide a training incentive in the form of up to 50% partial reimbursement for the purchase of pre-approved equipment that is designed to improve lifting/manual handling safety. For more information on the program and how to apply, see the Safe Lifting Reimbursement Fund Application.

Lifting and Manual Handling Guidelines
  1. Before lifting or moving an object, assess the situation by asking the following questions:

    • Is there equipment you can use to move the object (e.g. a hoist or hand truck)?
      • If yes, use available equipment to safely move it.
    • Is the object too heavy to lift by yourself?
      • Lift one of the corners to assess the object’s weight.
      • Determine if the object can be disassembled into smaller, more manageable parts.
      • Recruit additional people to help you if necessary.
      • When in doubt, don’t lift it without assistance.
    • Is the object too awkward to carry?
      • If yes, don’t lift it without assistance.
    • How far do you have to carry the object?
      • If you have to carry loads for a long distance, seek assistance.
    • Is your carrying path free of debris, obstacles, and stairs? Is the surface of the path safe (i.e. not slippery)?
      • Don’t try to carry loads across unsafe distances.
    • Will your view be obstructed while carrying the object?
      • Don’t attempt to carry loads if you cannot see where you are going.
      • Use proper lifting technique.

    ​If lifting by hand, use the “power position.”

    • Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other.
    • Bend your knees slightly. Press your chest forward while maintaining your spine’s neutral curvature. Keep your head up.
    • Get a good grip on the object.
    • Contract the abdominal muscles and hold the object close to your body.
    • Use your legs — not your back — to lift.
    • Lift the object with a smooth movement (i.e. without jerking your body).

    Carrying the object:

    • Avoid twisting movements. Use your legs to turn (not your back).
    • Hold the object close to your body, at waist level.
    • If necessary, set the object down to rest.

    Lowering the object:

    • Contract your abdominal muscles while maintaining a neutral curve in your spine.
    • Hold the object close to the body.
    • While looking forward, bend your knees and slowly lower the object.

    Additional tips:

    • Take frequent breaks to interrupt repetitive lifting, mix in tasks that do not involve lifting, and take breaks to stretch.
    • Use a stool or ladder to reach loads above your shoulders. Get as close to the load as possible before sliding it towards you. Work with your arms and legs — not your back.
    • Take extra care with loads under racks or cabinets. Pull the load towards you, try to support the load on one knee before you lift, and use your legs to power the lift.
    • Slide objects instead of lifting and carrying them.
    • Push objects instead of pulling them.
    • Plan tasks ahead of time to limit lifting and moving.
    • Use hand trucks and push carts to assist with moving objects. For extremely heavy items, call on an authorized forklift operator.
    • Design your workstation to avoid excessive bending, twisting, and stretching. Use tool supports for prolonged tool use.

  1. Using hand-held vibrating tools increases your risk of developing neural, vascular, and musculoskeletal disorders. Vibrations from impact with the work surface, the motion of a piston (e.g. a jackhammer) and the tool’s engine, or unbalanced rotating mass are attenuated primarily through the musculoskeletal system (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1989).

    Factors influencing how vibration affects the body include:

    • Tool type and maintenance
    • The duration of tool use and work conditions
    • Grip force on the tool handle
    • Muscular force applied to the tool
    • Body position
    • Clothing and gloves
    • Skill level
    • Noise
    • Your physical condition
    • Whether you use tobacco or drugs

    To prevent vibration-related injuries, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends the following measures:

    • Decrease the level of vibration:
      • Use only the amount of power necessary to complete the job. Many tools don’t need to be operating at full throttle to complete a task.
      • Follow proper tool maintenance. Tuned engines can reduce vibration levels. Sharpened blades and newer grinding surfaces reduce the duration of exposure.
    • Use special grip handles, dampened engine mounts, and shock-absorbing exhaust mechanisms (if possible) to reduce the transmission of vibration.
    • Determine if vibrating tools are necessary to complete the job. Used automated techniques if possible.
    • Alternate work tasks to avoid prolonged use of vibrating tools, by:
      • Limiting the their use (especially high-acceleration tools) to one or two days per week.
      • Taking freqent breaks.
    • Protect your hands from exposure to cold temperatures.
    • Participate in training to learn how to properly use and maintain the tool. Schedule work and rest, and learn to recognize the early symptoms of a vibration-related disorder.
    • Undergo periodic medical examinations.

Tips for a Healthier Back
  1. The following tips may reduce your risk of developing back pain or impairment over time:

    • Always maintain the natural curve in your back, especially when lifting or sitting; the back is best supported when in a neutral posture.
    • Alter your position frequently for prolonged standing and sitting, by:
      • Resting your foot on a step while standing.
      • Standing up from time to time to prevent prolonged sitting.
      • Taking breaks during long drives.
      • Removing your wallet from your back pocket while sitting.
    • Exercise regularly to promote overall musculoskeletal strength and endurance, enhance cardiorespiratory fitness, improve body composition, and maintain flexibility.
    • Purchase a supportive mattress and pillows if necessary.
    • Use bags and backpacks that hold loads close to the body, distribute forces evenly, and have wide straps. Do not carry heavy loads in backpacks. Backpacks with a waist belt are ideal to help further distribute the load.
    • Wear cushioned shoes and avoid high heels.
    • Avoid cigarette smoking.

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