The Menaces of Manually Moving Materials

Stone worker carrying stone blocks

Lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, bending, and carrying materials and products. It’s an everyday part of most work environments. Training employees in body mechanics is good, but there are limits to what our bodies can tolerate. And ignoring these limits can lead to costly injuries.

Using sound ergonomic principles can help workplaces mitigate these risks without impeding business goals.

National Institutes of Health defines ergonomics as “the study of matching job requirements and environment to the worker to maximize efficiency, quality, and quantity of work while minimizing work-related musculoskeletal disorders, fatigue, and overexertion.”

In other words, modifying the job -- not the worker.

The first step: Assessing the task and its associated ergonomic hazards. This may include determining the size and weight of the load, the task frequency, and awkward postures.

There are many publicly available equations to determine the risk including the NIOSH lifting equation which can now be downloaded as an easy-to-use app.

Self-evaluation checklists are available through the CDC’s Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. MEMIC ergonomists use advanced computer programs to measure specific stresses on the body from videos submitted by our policyholders through our E-ErgoTM program. 

Reducing ergonomic hazards may seem daunting, but even slight changes can make a big difference. Try asking some of these questions to identify solutions:

  • Can any part of the task be eliminated or automated?
  • Can lighter or less bulky packaging be substituted?
  • Can the height or position of the task be changed?
  • Can the frequency and speed of the task be modified?
  • Can the task be rotated or shared?
  • How often can a worker take a break from the task?
  • Are effective tools and technologies available?
  • Is the equipment in good working order so things move easier?
  • Do workers understand the best way to perform the task?

Worker participation in the process will improve the ability to identify hazards and solutions, and successfully implement an effective ergonomic safety program.

General and industry specific resources are available to policyholders on the ergonomics page of MEMIC Safety Director.

Policyholders can join MEMIC at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 13 for an interactive webinar: Strategies for Safe Lifting and the Future of Manual Material Handling.