Lifting occurs in every job, however, the degree and frequency of lifting varies. In many blue collar occupations, manual labour is quite a prominent aspect of their work. Due to the physical nature of blue-collar work, this group is more likely to be injured on the job than white collar workers. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the highest rates of injuries occurred in blue collar occupations, such as labourers (88 injuries for every 1000 workers), machinery operators and drivers (86 per 1,000), and technicians and trades workers (78 per 1,000).

Lifting may seem like an innocuous task, but it is one of the most common causes of injuries amongst manual workers. The frequency of lifting injuries is quite high, however, it can be avoided. Implementing and adhering to proper lifting technique and procedures should be a priority for both employers and employees. This can help to radically reduce the instances of workplace injury, maintain a safe work environment, and minimise costs and lost labour.

Information For Employers
When it comes to workplace health and safety, the minimisation of risks, the administration of safety strategies, and the appropriate management of workplace injuries is the responsibility of the employer or person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). Currently, there are no laws outlining specifics surrounding lifting in the workplace (for example, the maximum weight that an individual is allowed to carry). However, this does not mean that the employer can make the worker lift any load they like. WHS legislation requires employers to identify any task that involves 'hazardous manual handling'. Once these are identified, management or the PCBU must do whatever is reasonably practicable to either eliminate or lessen the risk associated with the task.

In terms of lifting, it is up to the employer to develop strategies that will effectively minimise the harm associated with the task. Management should first assess the physical work environment and identify any ways they can adjust the layout or structure of the workplace to help make lifting easier. For example, having loads placed at a height between the shoulders and the knees will make it easier for the worker to get a good grip on an item and make the load easier to carry. Also, for items over 16kg, it is recommended that mechanical aids or a team should be used to help lift the load. This will help to effectively minimise the risk of injury, as the burden of the weight won't fall on one person.

It is mainly up to management to develop and implement a lifting training program that educates employees on the proper way to lift.

Your Duty As An Employer
The main duty of management or the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is to provide information and educate their workforce about lifting, such as the proper technique to minimise injury and the other strategies that can be implemented to reduce harm. Management also has the responsibility of assessing the work environment, identifying potential risks and either eliminating or reducing them. This can be overlooked sometimes, but making regular checks and implementing subtle improvements can help to dramatically minimise lifting-related injuries. For example, simply putting the loads closer to their end destination, or checking that lifting equipment is safe and maintained regularly, can make a real difference.

Safe lifting training should be done at regular intervals so that proper lifting technique and risk minimisation strategies are always fresh in their minds, and they are conditioned to exhibit this positive behaviour. Having this knowledge can assist with the reduction of lifting-related workplace injuries. The information contained in the safe lifting training session should be frequently reviewed and updated so that it is always relevant and workers are provided with the best safe lifting tactics and strategies possible. Also, once the lifting training session is over, it is recommended that employees sign a document to confirm that they have received training on safe lifting, understand the information provided and are committed to applying what they've learnt in the workplace.

For a comprehensive guide on how to manage work health and safety risks, click here.

For examples of safe lifting training sessions, click the links below:
-  Gempler's 'Proper Lifting To Prevent Back Injuries'
-  Employer Flexible 'Toolbox Talk - Safe Lifting'
-  Harvard 'Lifting Safety Toolbox Talk'

Information For Employees
Workers also have a responsibility to ensure that they conduct themselves in a safe manner, adhere to the safety training that has been provided, and report any workplace injuries or incidents. Workers must also ensure that their actions and behaviour are not endangering others. When it comes to lifting, workers are vulnerable to experiencing a back injury or other musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). Not only do back injuries take their toll on a worker's physical health and well-being, but it can also have a significant impact on their ability work, earn money and make a living. Back injuries are relatively easy to prevent if the appropriate measures are taken.

To Prevent Back Injuries Avoid The Following Lifting Behaviours

Prevention is always better than cure. Understanding what lifting behaviours are dangerous can help you avoid them and reduce your chances of experiencing a workplace injury. The following are some of the most common lifting mistakes that can cause back injuries:

  •  Repetitive lifting
    -  Twisting your spine while lifting an object
    -  Slipping or falling when lifting
    -  Not Gripping the load properly
    -  Carrying a load too far from your body
    -  Lifting loads that are too heavy
    -  Lifting an unbalanced load

Proper Lifting Techniques

There is an art to lifting a load properly. Knowing the proper techniques for lifting an object safely, and consistently applying it at work, is the best way to maintain your back health and effectively reduce the risk of injury. So, how exactly do you lift a load correctly? The following is a guide to lifting safely in the workplace:

  •  Before you even lift the object, assess the load. If it appears to be too heavy or unbalanced do not lift it by yourself. Use lifting equipment, break down the load or ask someone to assist you.
    -  Check that your path is clear of obstacles and potential hazards (e.g. uneven surfaces).
    -  If you have determined that you can lift the load yourself and your path is clear, get a firm footing. Stand close to the load with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, and one foot slightly in front of the other.
    -  Bend your knees and keep your spine straight. Do not bend at your waist or curve your back.
    -  Get a good grip on the load and hold it close to your body.
    -  Use your legs to lift and not your back.
    -  If you need to turn or change direction, do not twist your spine. Instead, lift your feet.
    -  To lower the load, bend your knees and slowly put it down. Remember, to keep your back straight at all times.

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More Tips To Avoid Back Injuries

Aside from the aforementioned tips and strategies, you can also minimise incidents of back injuries through the following methods:

  •  Stretching regularly and ensuring that your muscles are warmed up before you lift.
    -  Wearing appropriate footwear and other relevant PPE.
    -  Using grip gloves.
    -  Using slow, fluid movements. No jerky actions.
    -  Not lifting objects higher than your chest.

For more information about lifting loads safely, click on the links below:
-  The University of Sydney - Manual Handling Frequently Asked Questions
-  FamilyDoctor.org - Lifting Safety: Tips to Help Prevent Back Injuries
-  Vic Gov Better Health Channel - Workplace safety - manual handling injuries

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