Strain & Sprain Prevention

Strains and sprains related to lifting and material handling are some of the most frequent types of injuries, both on and off the job. While some factors that contribute to the potential for injury cannot be controlled, others can be reduced or minimized. Poor physical fitness, obesity, smoking, poor posture, and medical/physical deficiencies are personal factors that may contribute to strains and sprains. Workplace factors may include inadequate workplace design, improper or defective material handling equipment, improper manual or mechanical handling methods, and inadequate training.

Strains and sprains may appear suddenly, but are often the result of numerous micro-traumas to the body, involving improper sitting or lifting over a long period of time. While no approach has been found for totally eliminating material handling injuries, an injury prevention program can minimize their occurrence by identifying risk factors and developing means to reduce their impact.

Workplace Layout

One of the best ways to avoid workplace strains and sprains is to design a workspace that reduces injury risk factors. Factors to consider include:

  • Height of the work to be performed: Workers should be able to sit or stand erect without having to lean forward. Storage should be organized such that the heaviest items are stored between knee and shoulder height to avoid bending and reaching overhead.
  • Standing workstations: Long-term standing can place excessive stress on the back and legs. Where long-term standing is required, a footrest or rail, resilient floor mats, height-adjustable chairs or stools, and opportunities for workers to change positions should be provided.
  • Seated workstations: Chairs should be fully adjustable, especially where workstations are used by multiple users.
  • Overhead storage: If items must be stored overhead, a warehouse ladder, stepstool or other means should be provided to achieve better lifting conditions.

Proper Lifting Techniques

To avoid injury, follow these steps for proper lifting and material handling:

  1. Warm Up: Your muscles need good blood flow to perform properly. Consider simple exercises such as jumping jacks to get warmed up prior to lifting tasks.
  2. Stand close to load: The force exerted on your lower back is multiplied by the distance to the object. Stand as close to the load as possible when lifting.
  3. Bend your knees: Bending your knees and keeping your upper body upright allows you to use your legs to lift, rather than your back.
  4. Grip the load: Do not lift a load if you can't get a good grip. Some loads are not too heavy, but are simply too large to grip easily. Consider lifting such a load with someone else.
  5. Lower load in reverse: You can just as easily injure your back putting something down as you did picking it up. Lower using your legs and keep the load close to your body.

Diagram of a proper lift

Things to Avoid:

  • Lifting and twisting at the same time
  • Throwing bags or other materials
  • Working while fatigued
  • Rushing
  • Reaching overhead

Mechanical Aids

Permanent mechanical aids such as pneumatic lifts, conveyors, and automatic material handling equipment should be considered when designing a workspace to reduce the amount of manual material handling as much as possible.

Temporary mechanical aids such as hand trucks, carts, book trucks, and pallet jacks should be used whenever possible to reduce the amount of force required to move objects. Please note, electric pallet jacks are considered Industrial Lift Trucks (ILT) or forklifts and require training and certification to operate.

Material Handling Training

Individuals who are required to conduct lifting and material handling tasks as part of their work responsibilities should receive training, which covers the following topics:

  • The nature of strains and sprain injuries
  • Proper warm up prior to lifting
  • Personal protective equipment for material handling (e.g. gloves, safety shoes, etc. See (add link)
  • Task assessments
  • Proper lifting techniques
  • Techniques to use for difficult lifting jobs (e.g. oversized loads, lifts over the shoulders or below the knees, etc.)
  • Personal risk factors for strains and sprains

Back Belts

Back belts have not been proven effective in reducing back pain and back injury. Back belts are not considered personal protective equipment by OSHA and are not covered by existing regulations. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) does not recommend the use of back belts and departments and supervisors should not provide back belts to employees.

Department-Specific Material Handling Resources

For departmental-specific tools regarding material handling, please see the Resources to the right.