When applying for a job in retail, food service, medical, construction, and many other sectors, you will probably notice a listed requirement is being able to lift objects of various weights. Whether you have to pick up a box of legal documents, cuts of timber, or consumer products, exercising safe lifting techniques is a must. All it takes is one incorrect lift at the wrong angle to hurt your back with potentially permanent consequences.
A few lifting safety tips from OSHA are:
- Lifting objects that are closer to your body gives you a stronger center of gravity for more stability and less strain. Bring your elbows close to your body during the lift to avoid affecting your center of gravity too much.
- Stoop low when lifting by bending at the knees and then standing up once the item is secure.
- Avoid bending your back or overreaching with your arms as much as possible.
- Never twist your torso or hips when lifting a heavy object. If you need to turn, reposition your feet deliberately.
- Ideally, you should only lift objects that are at least at thigh-height.
- Attempt to disassemble products or loads into smaller portions when possible. For example, it is better to lift five 10-pound objects in succession than one 50-pound object.
Informing Your Employer After a Back Injury
Incorrect lifting techniques are most likely to cause you to suffer a back injury. Even if you are not hurt in a singular incident of incorrect lifting, repeated lifting done the wrong way can eventually cause significant strain and pain. A gradually forming injury is called a repetitive stress injury (RSI).
Whether your back injury happens all at once or as an RSI, you need to tell your employer as soon as you are aware of it. In most states, like California, you have to tell your employer within 30 days of your workplace injury. Otherwise, investigating your claim could be problematic and the validity of your claim will be jeopardized.
Reporting your back injury quickly also helps you get access to medical care when you need it. The longer you wait to report a back injury, the worse it will likely become, especially if you are still lifting objects in the meantime.
There are also cases in which an employer should have reasonably known about an employee’s back injury and telling the employer directly could arguably be unnecessary. For example, you lift a box of products at the front of the store and several customers and coworkers see you hurt your back. Word should reach your employer of what happened, but it is best not to leave things up to chance. Take the time to notify your employer about your back injury within 30 days of feeling it, no matter how or where it happened in your workplace.
Employer’s Responsibility to Protect Workers from Lifting Injuries
You are the only person who can ensure you exercise proper lifting techniques. However, your employer still has the responsibility to tell you how to safely lift and provide tools and equipment that can help you, like pallet-jacks and forklifts. Employers can also assign multiple workers to a task that requires lifting to reduce the chances of someone overexerting themselves.
With this in mind, do not let an employer trick you into thinking you cannot get workers’ compensation benefits because you inadvertently lifted a heavy object incorrectly. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, which means you should be eligible for benefits after an injury or accident that you caused by mistake.