Lifting Safety

Originally published 05/29/2018

Construction work can be rough on the body. We perform many tasks that involves pushing, pulling and most dangerous lifting. When similar task are performed without consideration of the damage that can be caused to the body injuries such as pulled or strained muscles not to mention the more serious ones involving ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues that surround the spine. It is important to be aware of the common practices in construction where injuries are most prevalent:

Here are a few ways that injuries commonly occur:

  1. Repetitive lifting.
  2. Twisting while lifting instead of turning our feet.
  3. Falling or slipping while carrying a load.
  4. Losing grip causing the load to shift.
  5. Carrying bulky objects with arms outstretched.
  6. Carrying objects that are too heavy.
  7. Uneven walking surfaces.
  8. Climbing stairs while carrying objects.
  9. Using the spine to do the lifting instead of your legs.

Here are a few tips to follow to help prevent the occurrence of an injury:

  1. Break down loads. Don’t carry entire bundles, break them down.
  2. Use a machine – skid steer, loader, pickup truck, dolly, etc.
  3. Place equipment such as generators, compressors and welders to prevent the need for frequent movement.
  4. Use wagons, dollies to move tool boxes, supplies, crates, etc.
  5. Team lift with a coworker to share the load.
  6. When supplies are delivered, ask the delivery person to unload them as close as possible to where they’re needed.
  7. Pick up trip hazards on stairs or walkways.
  8. Use gravel to make ramps over footings or concrete pad edges.
  9. Wear proper footwear for the jobsite.

Planning ahead and having forethought about the lift can go a long way toward avoiding injuries.

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Oh, My Aching Back

Originally published March 16, 2016

Various studies have shown that the construction trades have a high incidence of back injuries. Over the years, low back injuries have consistently accounted for about 25 percent of all the lost workday injuries in construction. Three out of four of those injuries occur during heavy lifting activities.

The causes of back pain and injury include:

  • Lifting excessive weight or lifting weight incorrectly;
  • Slips, trips and falls caused by bad weather or poor housekeeping;
  • Repeated twisting;
  • Awkward posture; and
  • Prolonged vibration (such as a jackhammer operation).

Unfortunately, once you’ve experienced back pain, the chances of it recurring increase greatly. The following are ways to help minimize the risk and discomfort of back injuries:

  • Plan ahead. Decide how you are going to pick up, carry and set down the load. If you need help, ask for it. Always check for obstructions in your path.
  • Lift with the object close to your body, because your lifting capacity is reduced the further a load is away from the spine. Bend your knees. Contract your abdominal muscles, and keep your head in a neutral position.
  • Use the strong muscles in your legs rather than the weaker ones in the back to lift your load.
  • Do not twist when lifting. Use your feet to pivot, moving your whole body as one unit when you turn.
  • Reduce back curvature by keeping your posture straight and your weight balanced on both feet.
  • When driving, make sure your back is well-supported, and use good posture. To prevent back strain, keep the steering wheel close enough for your knees to be slightly flexed and higher than your hips.
  • You may want to add a pre-work stretching program to your daily schedule. Warming up prepares your body for the physical work ahead and helps reduce the risk of injury.
  • Consider engaging in a regular exercise program to keep the muscles supporting your back stong and flexible. Good exercises that help strengthen your core include speed walking, swimming, stationary biking or yoga. Remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Take care of your back, and it will take care of you.

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Preventing Forklift Accidents

There are several types of forklifts that can be used on construction sites. They include stand-up riders for use in narrow aisles, sit-down riders, motorized hand pallet jacks and rough terrain forklift trucks.

About 100 workers are killed each year as a result of forklift accidents. Overturning causes nearly one quarter of these fatalities. Other common forklift accidents include workers being struck by materials on forklifts or by the forklift itself, and workers falling from a forklift.

Unfortunately, those who operate forklifts day in and day out have a tendency to take short cuts and ignore basic safety rules. Their attitude says, “It can’t happen to me.”

Some factors to consider when driving a forklift include:

  • Know the capacity of the forklift you are driving. Make sure it can handle the size and weight of your load.
  • Determine if the load you are carrying has any odd characteristics, and plan ahead on how to handle them. Examples include loads that are top heavy, cylindrical or awkward.
  • Know the condition of the forklift. Are the forks damaged, or is there some other problem that could cause an accident? If so, don’t use the forklift until it’s repaired.
  • Determine the path you will be traveling with the forklift. Be aware of obstacles, bumps, ramps, people, cross aisles and narrow passageways.

When operating a forklift, keep the following safety guidelines in mind:

  • Operate the forklift only if you’ve been trained.
  • Maintain a safe following distance from other forklifts – about three vehicle lengths.
  • Follow speed limits and other regulations.
  • Drive with your load low – six or eight inches off the ground – and tilted slightly back.
  • Exercise extra caution when driving over duckboards and bridge plates, and make sure your load is within their capacity as well.
  • Raise and lower your load only when your forklift is completely stopped.
  • Stop and sound the horn at intersections.
  • Avoid sharp turns.
  • Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle.
  • Wear a hard hat and other protective equipment when necessary.
  • Be sure your load is stable and secure.
  • When leaving the forklift for any reason or any length of time, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, shut off the engine and set the brakes.

OSHA has two educational documents on forklift safety. The first is “Operating the Forklift: Load Handling,” and the second is “Operating the Forklift: Traveling & Maneuvering.” Both have good information that can help you safely operate your forklift.

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How to Prevent Soft Tissue Injury

Soft tissue injury is one of the most common injuries in construction. Soft tissue refers to tissues that connect, support or surround other structures and organs of the body. Here are some of the most common soft tissue injuries reported in construction:

  • Muscle sprains and strains;
  • Injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral dics and other structures in the back;
  • Injuries to nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs;
  • Abdominal hernias; and
  • Chronic pain.

These injuries can occur suddenly or over a prolonged period of time. Risk factors for soft tissue injuries include awkward postures, repetitive motion, excessive force, static posture, vibration and poorly designed tools. The good news is that soft tissue injuries, and the conditions caused by them, are preventable.

The following precautions can help prevent soft tissue injuries:

  • Stretch before you use your muscles.
  • Avoid bending or twisting the back or neck.
  • Avoid overexertion.
  • Use ladders to reach overhead objects and mechanical equipment to carry and move heavy materials.
  • Use proper lifting techniques. Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Make the most of your break times and stretch muscles that have become tense from continuous sitting and/or exposure to vibration.
  • Use tools properly. When possible, keep tools between your waist and shoulder height, which is considered the “lifting zone.” This gives you the most leverage, and allows the strongest muscles to do the work.
  • Keep your work area clean and free of hazards. Pick up loose objects from the floor, and clean up spills immediately to eliminate tripping and slipping hazards.

Take action today. Decide what you can do right now to help prevent a soft tissue injury, and then do it. You’ll end up with a safer workplace and fewer workplace injuries.

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