Material handling safety

October 23, 2003
By: Charlie McCarthy

Handling material is a daily function in the workplace. All too often it is a task taken for granted, with little knowledge of or attention to the consequences if done incorrectly. Management and employees need to look at and evaluate how material goods are handled inside and outside their facilities. Whether the operation involves delivering or receiving material, an area should be designated for that purpose.

How the material or goods are unloaded or loaded is a key factor in reducing employee injuries. Persons involved in material handling should be able to lift and hold the weight of the material or goods used in their operations. They also must be properly trained in the correct way to lift and carry the items. The National Safety Council offers tips on the following:

Power Lifting

Protect Yourself

  • Use the correct hand protection; wear gloves to prevent cuts.
  • Wear safety shoes to prevent injury to your feet from a dropped item.

Size up the Load

  • Determine if you can carry a load comfortably; tip it on its side.
  • Get help if the load is too big or bulky for one person.
  • Check for nails, splinters, rough strapping, and rough edges.

Lift It Right

  • Make sure your footing is solid.
  • Keep your back straight, with no curving or slouching.
  • Center your body over your feet.
  • Get a good grasp on the object and pull it close to you.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Move your feet to turn. Don't twist your back.

Tough Lifting Jobs

Oversized Loads

  • Don't try to carry a big load alone. Ask for help.
  • Work as a team. Lift, walk, and lower the load together.
  • Let one person give the directions and direct the lift.

High Loads

  • Use a step stool or a sturdy ladder to reach loads that are above your shoulders.
  • Get as close as you can to the load.
  • Slide the load toward you.
  • Do all the work with your arms and legs, not your back.

Low Loads

  • Loads that are under racks and cabinets need extra care.
  • Pull the load toward you, and then try to support it on your knee before you lift.
  • Use your legs to power the lift.

Power Carrying Tips

Your Checklist

  • Make sure your footing is firm.
  • Ensure enough clearance at doorways to keep your hands and fingers safe.
  • Check your route for hazards.
  • Take extra care at platforms, loading docks, ramps, and stairs.
  • Carry long loads on your shoulders, with front end high.
  • Make sure the next person has a firm grip before you hand off the load.
  • When you carry with others, everyone should carry the load on the same shoulder, walk in step, and put the load down as a team.

Back Safety Tips

  • Wear the right personal protective equipment for lifting and carrying.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back; pivot, don't twist.
  • Get help with tough lifting jobs.
  • Spend a few minutes each day before work on power warm-ups.
  • Exercise regularly to keep your back strong and healthy.
  • Eat right, stay slender, and cut down on stress to avoid back injuries.

Education Is Key

It is important to educate the personnel involved in material handling. They must understand that it is not smart or a good practice to show offtheir muscles by lifting and carrying very heavy material. Doing so is a common cause of back injuries, and back injuries can remain with someone for the rest of his or her life.

Management must designate and train specific individuals to unload and load material. Management also must make sure that the correct procedures are followed. Employees should be aware that regardless of how small or lightweight an item is, only a designated, trained individual should move it.

Many times it is not necessary for an individual to lift and carry material manually. Various types of equipment—dolly, cart, lift truck, hoist, and crane—are available to move material safely. Depending on the type of operation, using a dolly and cart to move material can result in minimal disruption of work flow.

Lift trucks can be used to carry heavier loads from one area to another. It is imperative that materials are placed on the lift truck in a safe and secure manner to avoid having the load shift, fall off, roll over, or impair the driver's vision.

Hoists and cranes should be used to lift extremely heavy loads. When using this type of equipment, personnel must enforce proper safety measures to prevent serious injuries. Only experienced persons should operate hoists and cranes.The machinery must be kept in good working condition, properly maintained, and tested on a regular basis. Loads should not exceed the machine's load limit.

These are only a few ideas to consider when addressing the issue of material handling safety. Common sense is the most practical tool to use.

Charlie McCarthy

Contributing Writer
Charlie, now retired from CNA, was the original underwriter for the FMA/CNA business insurance program and continued in that role until his retirement. He serves on the FMA/CNA Safety Committee.