Keenan Blog

The goal of the Keenan Blog is to provide a forum where we can come together to discuss issues and cultivate the solutions that will have a meaningful impact on your organization.

Safe Lifting in the School Environment

Kathy Espinoza 6/25/2013
Kathy Espinoza

I’m often asked, “what is a safe lift?”

As a basic starting point, one person should be able to lift an object weighing up to 51 pounds, if:

  • The object is within 7 inches from the front of the body.
  • The object is at waist height and directly in front of the person.
  • There is no twisting involved.
  • There is a handle on the object.
  • Any load inside won’t shift once lifted.

If any of these conditions are not met, the load would be considered unsafe and modifications must be made to make it “safe” such as:

  • Decrease the weight of the load.
  • Make it a two-person lift.
  • Use mechanical assistance (dolly, cart, lift, etc.).

How to Reduce Lifting Exposures

Engineering Controls

Physical changes or modifications to workstations, tools or equipment.

  • Ramps on ground crew trucks to remove mower and edger instead of lifting them off
  • Smaller trash cans in cafeterias to create smaller loads
  • Lift assist equipment in special education classrooms
  • Longer handles on equipment to eliminate poor back posture

Administrative Controls

A “work hardening” program.

  • For jobs that require intense lifting or job rotation to give the back a rest period
  • For employees returning to work following an injury, or for all new hires, to condition them slowly into the job


Education on safe lifting techniques, proper body mechanics, and how to spot risk factors.

  • Encouragement of feedback from employees who often know best how to improve unsafe lifting environments
  • Provided when any new engineering controls have been put in place so employees know how to work and lift safely

Best Practices Example

First, find out where the problems are. For instance, if injuries are occurring to custodians as they lift trash cans in school cafeterias, that’s where you should start. Here’s how to handle that situation.

Engineering Controls

  • Break down the load by placing several small trash receptacles (25 gallons or less) in the same area or increase the number of trash cans to make the weight of each can lighter.
  • Create a ramp up to the main trash bin. Place lunch trash receptacles on rollers and wheel them up the ramp without having to pick up the bags.

Administrative Controls

  • Many districts have students eat lunch first, then be released to recess after. One district has students go to recess first so they work up an appetite and then release them to lunch. This results in less food waste.
  • Empty trash cans more often.
  • Allow only one-third of the trash liner to be filled, then place another liner in the can. In essence, you end up with three trash liners for every can.


  • Take the opportunity to listen to the custodians and hear their suggestions for the task. They are more likely to accept the solution if it comes from them.
  • Train them on proper lifting techniques and work practices.

Employees are probably lifting a variety of things every day. So make sure it’s a “safe lift”!