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Overexertion Injuries and Lifting Requirements

Cross posted from:

According to Liberty Mutual's "Most Disabling Injury Report", overexertion ranks first as the leading cause of workers compensation claims costs in the workplace. This event category, which includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing, accounted for more than one-quarter of the overall national burden at 25.7 percent. In the latest data year (2006), these injuries cost businesses $12.4 billion in direct cost. Given that, if your company has injuries related to this category, revisiting the manual materials movement requirements may save a significant amount of money, either as a significant decrease in the Experience Modification Rates (EMR) or as direct costs for those self-insured companies. In this post, we'll concentrate on lifting.

Do you know how your company came up with its current lifting requirement? Too many companies base their lifting requirements on the weight of the item to be lifted. As an example, the item to be lifted weighs 65 pounds. The employee is capable of lifting it from the floor to waist height, so the lifting requirement was set at 65 pounds. There was no consideration given to the demographics of the workforce, the frequency of the lift, any twisting that needed done, etc.

At the time of writing OSHA does not have an ergonomic standard, though that may change with the new administration. Currently, OSHA is able to cite employers under its General Duty Clause when a workforce is found to have lifting requirements well above that which is safe. Given the direct cost of injuries attributed to lifting and the possibility of additional costs in possible fines, a company would be well served to take a long hard look at their current lifting requirements.

OSHA uses a Lifting Guide issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to help determine a recommended safe lifting weight. NIOSH recommends lifting a maximum of 51 pounds and that is only under very controlled conditions (lifts from knee level to waste level, no twisting, proper hand-holds, etc.). If an employee must start a lift below knee level, twist as part of that lift, reach above shoulder level, lift more frequently, etc. the maximum recommended weight for the lift goes down – in some cases drastically.

NIOSH has published an “Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation” (See links). My suggestion would be to read it throughly and then use one of the on-line calculators to determine the maximum recommended lifting weight for the task (See links). A lifting requirements must be assigned for each task, or in cases where employees change tasks often, must be determined by the lowest recommended weight limit of all of the tasks performed.

There are things that can be done to increase the recommended weight limits, while still reducing the instances of overexertion injuries related to lifting. Engineering controls include:
  • Reduce the size and /or weight of the object to be lifted.
  • Adjust the starting and ending height of the lift by installing pneumatic lifts, or lowering the height of shelves.
  • Adjust work stations to reduce twisting, or obstructions.
  • Use conveyors to eliminate of reduce lifting frequencies.
Administrative controls could include:
  • Train employees to lift properly.
  • Use two hand lifts where necessary.
  • Strength test potential employees to make sure they are capable of handling the lifts.
  • Where possible, include passing a strength test as a condition of accepting transfer to a new position.
Whether there will be a revised OSHA ergonomic standard or not, it makes good financial sense to adjust tasks and lifting requirements to help reduce the costs associated with employee overexertion injuries from lifting.

Useful Links:

Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation

On-line Lifting Calculators
Other Useful Links

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