It’s all about the Base, No Trouble

Man with sore back from improper lifting technique

I was driving down the road the other day listening to Megan Trainor sing, “Because you know I’m all about the bass, ‘bout the bass, no treble,” and I started thinking that this could be a great line for proper lifting technique and to reduce the likelihood of creating a back injury.

Every day through our work, and through life in general, we are constantly lifting things and putting things down.  Much of what we do is subconscious behavior.  When we lift, we probably do it the same way each time and don’t think about the consequences of a “bad lift” until it happens.  I have been struggling for years to think of some way to remind people to keep the load close and between their feet.  Remember, the laws of physics apply every time we lift an object.  Since weight x distance = force, the closer the load is the less impact it has on the body.  Here are a few strategies to keep the load within your base, and have no trouble.

First, your base is a well-balanced stance with your head upright, knees slightly bent, and arms in position with the hands directly over the halfway point between your feet.  The center of gravity of an object to be lifted shouldn’t be forward of a line drawn between your big toes. In other words, keep the load close and don’t extend your hands forward of your feet.  

The lifting challenge is worsened when feet can’t be staggered.  Often the work environment keeps us in a linear position with our feet parallel to one another due to obstructions or limited space. But, as mentioned above, this foot positioning is sometimes simply subconscious behavior. This position requires a reach beyond our baseline and loads the back with potentially significant forces.

First try to keep loads above knee and below shoulder height.  This is your “power zone” in which you have the best chance of lifting an object without injury to backs, knees, and shoulders. If the load is on a pallet, approach the pallet from the corner.  This allows you to stagger your feet and pull the load towards your body and into your base prior to actually lifting the object.  If the load is above your shoulders, slide the load towards you before supporting the weight.  Let the shelf or other boxes underneath the lifted box support it until you can get it over your base. Angle the object down to your supported position and over your base.  

When reaching across an object such as a bed or pallet, counter the load by placing one hand down to support the back, and use the other hand to pull the object towards you to within your base. Then complete the lift safely. When carrying an object, the load should be within your base and, if possible, against your core.  You’ll then have three points of contact for support of the object and for your back. Lastly, a twist when you lift will make you shout, so leave the twisting to the dance floor and always stay within your base to come through with no trouble.   

Keep in mind that for heavy or awkward objects there really is no “safe lift.”  Manual material handling is a very common cause of workplace injury.  However, movement is healthy, and staying in good physical condition is a good thing.  But too much of a good thing isn’t very good.  So, keep Megan’s tune in mind and remember, “It’s all about the base!” 

For more tips on ergonomics check out MEMIC’s Safety Director.