Avoiding Back Injuries

Advising employees to be careful when lifting makes sense both from a health standpoint and a financial one. The U.S. Department of Labor states that back injuries are the second most common reason for lost work days (behind only the common cold). Back injuries cost businesses up to $100 billion a year. But there are some things you can suggest to employees––and do yourself––to curb such injuries in your small business.

  1. Test and examine heavy objects before lifting or moving. Tip the object to determine its weight. Sometimes lighter but more awkward objects can be just as hard on the back as heavy objects.
  2. When an object is heavy enough to present a problem, look for alternatives before moving. Call for help. Use equipment such as forklifts or dollies. Move a package piece by piece rather than all at once.
  3. Never extend your arms when attempting to lift or lower heavy objects from a height. This puts undue pressure on the back.
  4. Make sure that you’re on solid footing. Slipping or twisting while lifting can cause injury.
  5. Use correct lifting procedure: Keep the back straight, kneel to grasp the object and lift with the legs, not the back.
  6. While carrying a heavy object, take short steps, maintain a firm center of balance, don’t attempt to go up or down stairs and don’t strain by carrying the load too far. Before lifting, plan in advance your route and where you will put the load down–– and know how far you can easily carry the load.
  7. Never reach high for a heavy load. Call for help before attempting.
  8. Don’t count on support belts to prevent back injuries. Using belts has not been found to reduce back injuries (Source: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, December 2000).
  9. Don’t hurry while lifting and don’t let others hurry you. Think about what you’re doing before starting to lift. Saving a minute or two is not worth a permanent, painful injury to the back.

Back and neck injuries are not confined to heavy lifting. Retail sales personnel and others who spend long hours on their feet often run the risk of back strain and injury, even when not involved in heavy lifting. To help out:

  1. Stand straight; don’t slump. Don’t bend over a table or counter while reading or writing. Sit down instead, at least while completing the task.
  2. Avoid putting all or most of your weight on one leg for long periods. This can put a strain on your hips and can cause lower and upper back problems.
  3. Wear proper shoes. If you know you’ll be on your feet for hours, don’t wear high heels unless you absolutely must. Shoes should provide good overall support, proper arch support, protection from the environment and have adequate cushioning to protect the foot against the unrelenting hardness of concrete flooring.
  4. Take frequent breaks and sit down, even for a few minutes at a time. While sitting, put your legs up to relieve pressure and fatigue caused by standing. Some retail stores discourage employees from sitting during work shifts. This practice causes undue mental and physical fatigue and can lead to back strain and injury.

Accidents and injuries are bound to happen, but by following the suggestions above and educating your employees on the best way to prevent back injuries, you’re reducing the likelihood of missed days and productivity due to back pain.

Employers Responsible for Forklift Certifications

Most employers throughout the U.S. are demanding previous forklift operator training or certification from individuals applying for employment who want to be forklift operators. The OSHA Federal Regulation, CFR1910.178, para. (L), Operator Training, Powered Industrial Trucks, clearly and repeatedly states that it is the employer’s responsibility to train and evaluate each operator regardless of previous experience or prior training. All training and evaluations must be site and equipment specific. The word certification rears its “ugly head” only one time in the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck Regulation. It states: “Certification. The employer shall certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated as required by this paragraph (L)”. The above word “that” implies the process. The process being that the present and current employer is certifying to OSHA that each operator has been trained, tested, evaluated and authorized (again, site and equipment specific).

During an OSHA audit or investigation, the employer, in most cases, will be required to provide certification. The certification shall include the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation(s) and the identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation. If OSHA finds the employer to be non-compliant or for a willful violation, severe OSHA fines and penalties can be imposed. In the event of an injury or death accident, consider the implications of a liability lawsuit if you, the employer, are not in compliance or the accident resulted from an employer’s willful violation or gross negligence.

These tips came from www.ForkliftSafety.com. For more information, visit their website or call (800) 494-3225.

Warehouse Safety

Warehouses range from product distribution centers to popular retailers that sell oversize and bulk products. Whether it is an industrial, commercial or retail facility, warehouse workers should follow safety guidelines for loading docks, conveyor systems, forklifts and pallet jacks, material storage and handling and good housekeeping.

Products enter and exit warehouses through truck and loading dock systems that are usually at a height above the ground. When loading and unloading materials, workers should pay special attention to avoid falls from elevated docks and ramps; yellow striping can draw attention to edges. Trucks delivering goods should be treated cautiously while they are parked at the loading dock. The area between the dock and truck is hazardous because a rolling truck can cause a crush injury; truck wheels should be chocked while unloading.

Forklifts and pallet jacks help move products from the shipping area into and around the warehouse. Forklifts are powered industrial trucks; forklift operators require training and certification while pallet jack operators require training only. Loads should be properly lifted on forks and stabilized, then slowly and deliberately taken to their assigned location. Forklifts and pallet jacks should never be used as rides or man lifts.

When large, awkward, and/or heavy items are warehoused, they become a challenge to store in a safe manner. Storage shelving and rack systems should be sturdy, braced, and spacious enough to allow people and equipment to move freely. When goods are shelved, they require slow and careful placement to avoid disturbing or pushing products off the facing aisle on to co-workers below. Products should be stored flat and inside the shelving units with aisle ways kept clear.

Pallets used for stacking products should be sturdy and in good condition; damaged or unstable pallet items should be restacked on a new one. Where possible, palleted products should be shrink-wrapped or baled for stability.

Workers can protect themselves on the job with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as steel-toed shoes, gloves and hard hats or bump caps. Proper lifting techniques protect backs. Safe lifting also prevents loads from shifting, falling, and crushing fingers, hands and toes.

Good housekeeping in a warehouse requires keeping dirt, oil and debris off the docks and floors. Floors should be non-slippery and free from pits and dents. Excess garbage, boxes, baling materials, and other recyclables should be removed and stored properly. Training on the hazards and attention to procedures will make sure warehouse workers stay safe.

Eric Martin, MBA, is a Senior Vice President at The American Consulting Group, Mission Viejo, CA, which assists organizations on a broad range of human resources, employee relations, and employer safety compliance issues. A Senior Consultant with the company’s HR and Safety Advisory Group, he has also helped hundreds of small and medium-size companies in wage and hour auditing, supervisory / management training, and complaint response, among other areas. He can be reached at (949) 452-1840 ext. 237