Whether you’re working in a factory or an office, a garage or a shop, at the controls of a computer or forklift truck, the likelihood is that at some point you’re going to find yourself lifting something up with your actual hands.
According to Unison, one in three accidents at work are caused by manual handling. And every year 300,000 people in the UK suffer damage to the back, neck or spine as a result – leading to pain, temporary incapacity or even permanent injury. In fact the Office for National Statistics records musculoskeletal issues as the third biggest reason for sickness absence in the country, costing companies thousands of working days a year.
Workplaces have a responsibility to minimise workplace risk, should have processes in place - and shouldn’t be asking you to lift or carry large or heavy loads without the correct training and equipment in the first place.
But even the most desk-bound of us have found ourselves moving a printer, or box of paper, or taking in a heavier than expected delivery. With NHS physio waiting lists at an all-time high - it’s probably a good idea for all of us to remind ourselves how to lift properly and safely.
Top tips for lifting well
Plan your lift
Think carefully about what you’re lifting, if the load is even and stable or likely to move, where the best handles or grips are, how far you’ve got to go, and where your load needs to end up.
Clear your path
It sounds obvious, but don’t attempt to lift something over obstacles - clear the path so you’ve a clear route to where you need to get to.
Test your load
Test the weight of your load by picking up one corner first, to establish how heavy it is, and if you can realistically move it by yourself. It’s not something to find out when you’ve already got it into the air...
If it’s too heavy, don’t lift it.
Think about your feet
Make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear – preferably something flat and sturdy in case you drop anything. Keep your feet planted firmly about shoulder width apart, with one slightly in front of the other for extra stability.
If you’re picking something up from the floor, bend at the knees as you would doing squats at the gym – not folding from your back. Make sure you don’t lock your knees as you straighten up.
Don’t try and lift from a kneeling position, but you can brace one knee on the floor if you need to, and rest the load on that knee as you stand.
Protect your spine
Concentrate on tightening the core muscles in your stomach and pelvis before you lift, to protect the natural curve in your lower back.
Use your leg muscles
The muscles in your legs are far bigger than those in your arms or back, so make use of them to push up.
Make sure you can get a firm grip on the object you’re lifting – don’t try and pick something up at an angle, with one hand, or with your fingertips. Try and distribute the weight evenly.
Lift the object slowly – without jerking it into the air or wrenching your muscles.
Hold it close
Don’t try and keep your load at arms length – hold it close to your body at about the level of your tummy.
Don’t twist – especially if your back is bent. Keep your body parallel to your load. Use your feet to change direction – and angle your hips and shoulders above them so your whole body is going the same way.
Keep your head up
When you’ve picked something up, look ahead at where you’re going rather than down at your feet.
Don’t rush the journey if something is heavy, move smoothly and carefully, and take a rest if you need to.
Put down slowly
Use the same squat bending at your knees and bracing your abs as you did to lift. Don’t rush because the end is in sight! Place it down carefully, and then reposition if you need to afterwards.
Health and Safety Executive