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Lifting and Material Handling Guidelines

Lifting and Material Handling

Lifting heavy items is one of the leading causes of injury in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2016…the back accounted for 38.5 percent of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders." Bending, followed by twisting and turning, were the more commonly cited movements that caused back injuries. Strains and sprains from lifting loads improperly, or from carrying loads that are either too large or too heavy, are common hazards associated with manually moving materials.

When employees use smart-safe lifting practices, they are less likely to suffer from back sprains, muscle pulls, wrist injuries, elbow injuries, spinal injuries, and other injuries caused by lifting heavy objects. Please use this page to learn more about safe lifting and material handling.

Lifting Principles

Lifting Stages

1. Preparation

Before lifting or carrying, plan out your lift. Think about:

  • How heavy/awkward is the load? Should I use mechanical means (e.g. a hand truck) or another person to help me with this lift? Is it possible to break the load into smaller parts? Is the container itself heavy? Perhaps a smaller or lighter container is available. Can supplies be ordered in smaller, lighter quantities to break up loads?
  • Where am I going with the load? Is the path clear of obstructions, slippery areas, overhangs, stairs, and other uneven surfaces? Are there closed doors that need to be opened? 
  • Are there adequate handholds on the load? Do I need gloves or other personal protective equipment? Can I place the load in a container with better handholds? Should another person help me with the load? Inadequate handholds, such as boxes without handles or oddly shaped loads, make lifting more difficult, move the load away from the body, lower lift heights, and increase the risk of contact stress and of dropping the load.
  • What is the temperature?  Be aware of extreme temperatures that can affect lifting and material handling. For example, muscle flexibility decreases in cold temperatures, and hot temperatures can lead to heat stress. Do what you can to adjust work schedules to minimize exposure to extreme temperatures. Wear appropriate clothing for the temperature in which you will be working. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration in excessive heat.
  • Is there adequate lighting?  Low visibility or poor lighting increases the chance of trips and falls.  Provide proper lighting for areas with low light and try to perform work during daylight hours when possible.

2. Lifting

  • Get as close to the load as possible.
  • Try to keep your elbows and arms close to your body.
  • Keep your back straight during the lift by tightening the stomach muscles, bending at the knees,  keeping the load close and centered in front of you, and looking up and ahead.
  • Get a good handhold and do not twist while lifting.
  • Do not jerk; use a smooth motion while lifting.
  • If the load is too heavy to allow this, find someone to help you with the lift.
  • Limit weight you lift to no more than 50 pounds. 

3. Carrying

  • Do not twist or turn the body; instead, move your feet to turn. Your hips, shoulders, toes, and knees should stay facing the same direction.
  • Keep the load as close to your body as possible with your elbows close to your sides.
  • If you feel fatigued, set the load down and rest for a few minutes

Ramps can be helpful in moving heavy items from one level to another.

4. Setting Down

  • Set the load down in the same way you picked it up, but in the reverse order.
  • Bend at the knees, not the hips.
  • Keep your head up, your stomach muscles tight, and do not twist your body.
  • Keep the load as close to the body as possible.
  • Wait until the load is secure to release your handhold.

Other Important Things to Remember

  • Limit weight you lift to no more than 50 pounds. When lifting loads heavier than 50 pounds, use two or more people to lift the load. If loads heavier than 100lbs have to be lifted, use mechanical means (e.g. hand trucks, pushcarts, etc.).  Remember to obtain training and authorization before using a forklift.
  • It is easier and safer to push than to pull.
  • Use personal protective equipment where needed, such as gloves with good grip and steel-toed boots where appropriate, to avoid finger injuries and contact stress.  Ensure that gloves fit properly and provide adequate grip.
  • Where possible, utilize handholds such as handles, slots, or holes that provide enough room for gloved hands. Try to use materials that are packaged with proper handholds or move materials into containers with good handholds. Suction devices are helpful in lifting junction boxes and other materials with smooth, flat surfaces. Other tools may be available that can create temporary handles.
  • Avoid using awkward postures, such as overhead reaching and crawling, by placing objects on shelves, tables, racks, or stacked pallets that are waist-high; or by using ladders or aerial lifts where necessary to elevate yourself and minimize overhead reaching. Roll-out decks in truck beds can be utilized to bring materials closer to the employee and eliminate the need to crawl into the back of a truck.

Additional Resources