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.

Ergonomics: It’s about using brains… not backs!

Kathy Espinoza 4/1/2014
Kathy Espinoza

When placed in a working situation where manual materials handling (lifting, pushing, pulling, etc.) is required, most people will ‘work’ themselves through the situation rather than ‘think’ it through first.  Ergonomics asks us to stop before lifting and use the brain to figure out if there is a better way than using the back.

The goal with any manual materials handling tasks is to NOT lift at all… but this requires us to step back and ask how this can be accomplished.

LiftingConsistently asking “Why” can help solve many dilemmas:

Why is this load on the floor in the first place?
     Answer:   Because that’s where the vendor dropped it off.

Why did the vendor set it on the floor?
     Answer:   Because that’s where we always set it.

Why can’t we set it on two empty pallets which will raise the height off the floor?
     Answer:   Because we don’t have any empty pallets around here.

Why can’t we order them and stack two empty pallets right here so the load can always be placed at knee height?
     Answer:  Well, I guess we could, I just never thought to ask…

This situation can be played out in your warehouse, nutrition centers, distribution centers, and libraries… anywhere where heavy items are being placed on the floor.

We can run through this “why” scenario with the grounds/facilities crew.

Why do you lift the equipment out of the truck bed?
     Answer:  How else am I supposed to get the mower off the truck?

Why don’t you try getting it out using a lightweight, manually attached ramp?
     Answer:  We don’t have any.

Why don’t you have any?
     Answer:  School districts don’t have the budget to provide for fancy stuff like that.

Why don’t you ask for one, if it helps make a safer workplace?
     Answer:  I never thought about it.  Back pain from lifting comes with the job.

Back pain is a serious issue.  It is the most common type of pain reported by adults in the US today, and it’s the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims each year.  According to the National Institute of Health, back pain affects 8 out of 10 people.  The good news is that most back pain can be prevented by using your brain to figure out how NOT to lift.

Realizing that this is not a ‘perfect’ world and change is gradual, here are a few extra tips for your workers who must manually move materials:

  1. Keep work in the comfort zone, between your elbows and your knees.
  1. Keep the spine in line. Postures that overextend the back are likely to cause injuries.
  1. Minimize manual material handling.  Overexertion injuries from excessive lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, or throwing are the primary cause of workplace injuries.
  1. When lifting an object, take a wider stance and keep your spine straight.  This promotes stability.
  1. Maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Best way to help a back injury is to prevent it!