Material handling

Material handling includes lifting, transporting and depositing material by human means using a variety of hand or hand-operated accessories such as hooks, bars, jacks, hand trucks, dollies, wheel barrows or other mechanical means.  Manual material handling entails lifting, but also usually includes climbing, pushing, pulling and pivoting, all of which pose the risk of injury to the back.  Recent studies show that nearly 70 percent of low back injuries are related to manual material handling. 

How can I keep my back safe?

Ergonomic lifting techniques can reduce your risk injury and help keep you pain free: lifting a box
  1. Assume a diagonal foot position, with one foot slightly in front of the other
  2. Get as close as you can to load, keeping it close to you throughout the move
  3. Test the weight before you lift.  If it is too heavy or you are unsure, ask for help!
  4. It is always easier and safer to move things at waist-level.  Sliding and carrying present less back strain than lifting and lowering.
  5. Review our tips for safe material handling techniques (pdf)

Non-occupational risk factors related to material handling injuries include:

  • History of a prior back injury
  • Poor personal fitness levels
  • A second job
  • Recreational or avocational activities
  • Smoking
  • The aging process
  • Physical stature
  • Psychosocial Issues (job-related stress, job dissatisfaction, personal or financial stress)

Read more about back physiology and health.

Should I use a back belt when lifting?

Whether or not to wear a back belt during heavy work seems to be an age-old question without a clear answer. While we do know that back belts provide some support, we cannot assume that a back belt is going to prevent back injuries. Not all back belts are created equal. There are numerous styles of back belts available, ranging from lightweight elastic belts to those with rigid stays. The variety of back belts results in a variety in the amount of protection that the belts can offer. Find answers to the most common questions regarding the use of back belts.