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Avoid Injury When Lifting and Moving Objects

The foreman looked up and asked, “Jim, how are you feeling today?”

Jim limped over and replied, “I’ll be OK, my back just goes out on me from time to time. I hurt it in my 20s, and it’s never been the same since. It comes and goes.”

The foreman agreed, “Yeah, we always lifted way too much far too often back then. I wish we could go back in time and change that. Hey, Jim. Why don’t you lead the safety meeting this week and teach the new guys what you wish someone had taught you?”

The Three P’s
Whether working at home or on the job site, we move and carry a lot of stuff throughout the day. As simple as lifting items may seem, improper techniques resulted in approximately 111,000 lost-time days away from work in 2017. Fortunately, we can help to avoid injury if we consider three things: (1) planning, (2) positioning and movement, and (3) picking it up and putting it down. Let’s explore each of these topics a bit further.

Planning – Use Your Head and Save Your Body

  • Eliminate the manual lift: Ask yourself, can I mechanically lift this load? If so, do it – you may be saving your back and other parts of your body.
  • Route recon: Also ask, where’s the load going to be placed, and what could trip me up? Pick the best path.
  • Clear the way: Remove obstructions from your travel path, such as discarded wrapping materials, dunnage and tools.
  • Utilize tools: Use appropriate moving/handling aids when possible, such as a dolly or lifting straps.
  • Get help if you need it: In general, it’s not a good idea to lift more than 35 to 50 pounds on your own, but you may need help with a lighter load, too, if it’s large, awkward or missing adequate handholds.
  • Make a rest stop: For longer travel carries or for vertical lifts from floor to chest height, consider resting the load midway on a table or bench to also give your body a rest and/or to change your grip on the load.

Positioning and Movement – Stabilize Yourself and Keep the Load Close

  • Pick a side: If the load has a heavier side and a lighter side, keep the heavier side closest to your body.
  • Legs and feet: Set them shoulder-width apart with one slightly in front of the other, if possible, to help with balance.
  • Back: There are two things you can do to protect your back:
    • Keep it straight with a slight natural bend – don’t hunch over.
    • Avoid twisting by keeping your head, shoulders and knees all facing the same direction.
  • Waist: Keep the load close to your waist to reduce the amount of pressure on your back. The farther away the load is from your body, the less you can lift.
  • Feet: Turn by moving your feet, not twisting your back.

Picking it Up and Putting it Down – Start and Finish Strong

  • Head and eyes: Look ahead, not down at the load.
  • Keep steady: Use slow, stable, deliberate movements – don’t jerk the load up or drop it down.
  • Stop work: Set down the load if things aren’t working out according to plan. Then make an adjustment and/or get help if needed.

In closing, lift and move loads like your back depends on it – not to mention your ability to do your job, provide for your family and enjoy your quality of life.

About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP, is executive vice president of health, safety, environment and quality for Ferrovial Services (

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