How Much Is Too Much to Lift?

What a great question. It is often answered by professional ergonomists, safety consultants, physical and occupational therapists, and the like with – it depends. Helpful right?

The fact is, it depends on several factors such as the size of the load, the load’s center, its stability, or whether it has handles or not. How close one gets to the load and the beginning and final heights of a lift are important factors. What if a load is rarely lifted versus frequently lifted? Who’s performing the lift: a male or female; someone who’s 25 or 55 years old; an experienced trained employee or a new hire with little experience and a basic orientation; a larger and therefore [typically] stronger person or someone just hired to do the job?

In terms of a specific number, many workplaces have established a 50-pound manual lifting limit. Heavier loads are either, substituted, eliminated, or lifted by mechanical means. More and more healthcare facilities acknowledge 35 pounds as their maximum load to manually lift or transfer a patient or resident. These limits should be considered the maximum loads if manual lifting is performed under optimal conditions. If a load is too far away, near the floor, or can suddenly shift, then lower limits need to be considered. These adopted limits have been established from decades of research and can be enforceable by OSHA:

NIOSH - Revised Lifting Equation
OSHA - Heavy Lifting
OSHA - General Duty Clause & Lifting Limit
Thomas R. Waters, PhD – When Is It Safe to Manually Lift a Patient?
OSHA - Safe Patient Handling
Fragala Commentary - 35 Pounds & Better Understanding of Limits

To some, these numbers may seem low but it’s important to recognize that the question is not simply about strength. As one leading researcher in the industry stated back in the late 1960’s, the question is about “capacity” or what we’re physically capable of over time without undue fatigue or injury.

If you’re struggling to answer this question, reach out to your loss control consultant or contact Christine Collomy, Loss Control Service Coordinator, at