Cover Story

Some Things Never Change

Although the cover art was created more than 40 years ago, it still conveys one strong message: Some Things Never Change. It speaks volumes even today! Our haircuts, our clothes, and some postal equipment may have changed, but as you can see from this Post Office Department poster, which was released in the late 1960s, lifting injuries were a hot topic even back then!

Today, USPS® is still experiencing large numbers of lifting and handling injuries. These injuries are not new phenomena; they have been around since the beginning of time.

Did you know that 900,000 disabling back injuries occur each year in the United States? More than half of these injuries are in direct correlation with people trying to lift objects. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), lifting and carrying are “power jobs” and it is very easy for back damage to occur. Once it does, it can take a long time for the person to return to normal activities, including work.

In the Postal Service’s plants, there have been over 2,000 accidents year-to-date (FY10) related to handling and lifting. His­torically, handling and lifting have been two of the leading causes of accidents in our mail processing facilities.

Most of us ignore our backs until they give us a painful reminder of our carelessness. People who take care of their backs are far less likely to run into problems.

Lifting large or heavy objects is not the only way you can injure your back. Many back injuries result from incorrect lifting of lighter objects. Unless you use safe techniques, picking up even a small article can cause a painful injury.

There are several things that can be done to prevent injuries from incorrect lifting, for example:

n Before you lift, you should size up the load, so you will know how much weight you are lifting before you attempt to lift it.

n If a load is too heavy for one person, a co-worker should be asked to assist. A helper who is around the same height will make the lift easier to do.

n When two or more people are involved in a lift, decide ahead of time who is the team leader. This person is responsible for giving commands such as “lift,” “move”, and “set down.” Coordination of movements will prevent sudden starts or stops and changes in weight distribution.

n Next, plan your route. Make sure you know where you are going with the object and check the route for obstacles. If you have to walk quite a distance with your load, pre-plan spots where you can easily stop for a short rest. But a better solution is to use a hand-truck or pallet mover for long distances, if you know how to properly operate one.

No one is immune to handling injuries!

Handling and Lifting Tips

Lift the Object Right

n Get close to the article and center your body over your feet.

n Bend your knees, and keep your spine straight.

n Grasp the package using your full palm, not just your fingers.

n Use your stronger leg muscles to push yourself upright.

n As you start the lift, raise your eyes and look straight ahead. This will keep your spine in correct alignment. Alternatively, as you start the lift, tuck in your chin so your neck and head are in a straight line with your back. That helps keep your spine straight and firm. It is not necessary, however, to force your chin against your chest.

n To pick up an awkward object, such as a sack, bend at the knees and grasp it at opposite corners. Gradually straighten your legs and push yourself up.

n Remember to hold the load close to your body and at about waist height, and do not twist. Twisting is one of the most common causes of back injury.

Carry the Object Right

n Keep the load close to your body to exert less force on your back.

n Make sure you can see clearly over the load. If your vision is blocked, you may trip and fall.

n Always move your feet rather than twisting your body to change directions.

Unload the Object Right

n Plan ahead for unloading. An ideal spot would be at waist height to prevent unnecessary bending.

n Take care to avoid crushing your hands when you release the weight.

n To unload, crouch down and use your thigh muscles to lower the object. Keep your back straight, and hold the article close to your body while unloading.

Handle Awkward Loads Right

n To retrieve an item from deep within a box or drawer, you can modify the basic lift procedure. Get as close as you can to the object, squat slightly, and place your bent knees against the box or drawer before you lift. A similar procedure is the safe way to lift heavy items from a car trunk.

Handle Small Loads Right

n For light, small objects in the bottom of a deep container, you can use the “golfer’s lift”. Swing one leg straight out behind you, flex the other knee, and use one hand to balance yourself on the edge of the container and the other hand to pick up the load.

Sudden lifting or releasing of loads can cause stress to the spine and back muscles. Always lift, move, and lower with smooth motions. Do not fight to recover a dropping object or lost load. Get out of its way and let it fall.

The NSC says power warm-ups — slow stretches before starting each shift — helps workers ease into their workday and avoid back strain. Exercises which stretch and warm up your legs and back will improve your strength and flexibility.

Overconfidence in one’s ability and lack of knowledge about lifting hazards are common causes of back injuries. It is easy to misjudge your strength and suffer a serious injury. Following the recommendations above will help reduce your risk of injury.

Remember that safe lifting is just as important at home as at work, for both you and your family. Show your family mem­bers the safe way to lift, so that they can avoid injury from lifting or handling materials at home or at their workplaces.