Reduce Ergonomic Injury Risk With These Guidelines For Safer Manual Load Carrying

Even with investment in automated material handling solutions forecast to grow from a current market size of $28.8 billion to $45.1 billion in the next five years, manual handling tasks in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities will never disappear. Particularly because not every operation can afford to make an investment in automation technologies. Yet, carrying loads that are either too large or too heavy can result in sprains and strains, according to environment, health, and safety researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Ensuring that employees are performing physical tasks safely, such as while carrying loads manually, can significantly reduce ergonomic injury risk associated with overexertion and repetitive stress. To help employers and operations managers safeguard their workforce against musculoskeletal injury that can lead to Worker’s Compensation costs as well as lost productivity, a list of guidelines for safer load carrying has been developed. Offered as part of a free, downloadable workplace safety handbook produced by the Ergonomic Assist Systems & Equipment (EASE) Council of MHI, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is “Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling.” The booklet includes safer handling and load carrying guidelines to help managers modify the work and the loads handled, as well as to help employees significantly lessen their risk of ergonomic injury.

Safer carrying recommendations for managers include:

  • Plan workflows in a manner that eliminates unnecessary carrying.
  • If possible, have employees use an ergonomic material handling solution to slide, push, or roll a load instead of carrying it.
  • Organize work so that physical demands and work pace associated with load carrying gradually increase.
  • Reduce the distances that a load must be carried to a minimum. Use equipment to move loads long distances.
  • If a load to be carried is unstable and/or heavy:
    • Tag it as such to alert workers.
    • Test the load for stability and weight prior to allowing a worker to carry it.
    • Use mechanical devices or ergonomic material handling equipment to carry or transport the load instead of an employee.
    • Reduce the load weight by putting fewer items into the container, using smaller and/or lighter weight containers, or dividing the load between two containers for employees to carry one in each hand.
    • Repack the containers to balance the weight of the load.
    • Require tandem or team carrying for heavy or bulky loads.
  • Rotate workers through carrying and non-carrying tasks, or have them alternate between those two task types, to reduce the frequency and amount of time they spend carrying loads.

For employees, safer carrying guidelines include:

  • Follow any stretching protocols recommended by your employer.
  • Check for tags indicating a load is heavy or unstable.
  • For long trips or loads that are unstable and/or heavy, follow management guidelines for using ergonomic equipment instead of manually carrying the load; reducing load weight; or repacking containers to increase stability.
  • Prior to carrying, follow these recommended best practices:
    • Wear appropriate shoes to avoid slips, trips, and falls.
    • If wearing gloves, choose the size that fits properly; different glove materials and thicknesses can require higher force to grasp and hold objects. For example, wearing a single pair of heat resistant gloves can reduce grip strength by as much as 40%.
    • Avoid carrying large or bulky loads that limit or obstruct vision.
    • Use an ergonomic material handling solution to slide, push, or roll a load instead of carrying when appropriate.
    • If a choice exists, push a load instead of pulling it.
    • Carry only as much as can be safely handled.
    • Avoid slopes, stairs, or other obstacles that make carrying loads more difficult.
    • Beware of and avoid floors that are slippery due to liquids, ice, oil, fine powders, or another slick residue.
    • When carrying loads that are unstable, use extra caution.
  • While carrying a load, follow these recommended best practices:
    • Keep loads close to the body.
    • Be sure there is a clear view of the path ahead.
    • When carrying a container with one hand, alternate the load between hands.
    • When possible, carry containers using both hands.
    • Alternate heavy or forceful exertion tasks with less physically demanding activities.
    • Take rest breaks between carrying heavy loads.

Need more guidance in reducing your operation’s ergonomic injury risk with ergonomic material handling solutions that improve workplace safety? The members of the Ergonomic Assist Systems & Equipment (EASE) Council of MHI are always available to consult, answer questions and make recommendations. Learn more about EASE.