McMaster University

McMaster University

Ergonomics - Lifting

Lifting and carrying heavy objects can lead to back injury which can range from simple muscle soreness to permanent disability. Taking care of your back is priority when undertaking tasks that include lifting and carrying loads.

The main muscle groups in your body occur between the knees and the shoulders. These large muscle groups are what give power when doing challenging activities. They work to maintain your centre of gravity and provide the resistance to compression while transporting the heavy load. A safe lift includes keeping the load close to the centre of gravity, avoiding twisting and using deliberate slow movements along vertical and horizontal axes.

Size Up the Load

  • How heavy is the load?
  • Does the lift require assistance?
  • Is the load awkward?
  • Can you use mechanical aids?
  • Can you break the load down into smaller parts?
  • If you have any doubt, ask for help.

Assess the Path

  • How far do you have to carry the load?
  • Is the path clear?
  • Are there any slip, trip and fall hazards along the way?
  • Where is the final resting spot?
  • Will the load block your view while you are carrying it?
  • Are there doors in your way?

Use Good Lifting Technique

  • Warm up your muscles before you begin.
  • Get close to the load. Center yourself over the load and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles. Tight abdominal muscles increase intra-abdominal pressure and help to support the back.
  • Ensure you are using gloves with grip if required.
  • Get a good handhold and pull the load close to you. The farther the load is from your body, the heavier it will feel.
  • Bend your knees. Bending your knees is the single most important thing you can do when you lift moderate to heavy objects. Squat down like a weightlifter, bend your knees, keep your back in its natural arch, and let your legs do the lifting. Your leg muscles are much more powerful than the smaller muscles in your back.
  • Do not jerk. Use a smooth motion and lift straight up.
  • Do not twist or turn your body while lifting. Keep your head up, and look straight ahead. Hold the load close and keep it steady.

Additional Tips to Ensure Safe Lifting

  • Dress appropriate for lifting. Wear clothes that are comfortable around the hips, knees and shoulders. Avoid wearing clothes with exposed buttons or loose flaps.
  • Shoes should be sensible, non-slip and have broad low heels.
  • Safety shoes should be worn where there is a potential for foot injuries.
  • Keep yourself fit for work. exercise regularly. Stretch muscles regularly so they are ready to be used.

Safe Carrying

  • Keep a good grip on the load.
  • Keep load at a reasonable height so you can see where you are going and others around you
  • Pivot your feet - don't twist your back when carrying loads.
  • When bringing your load to rest, use the lifting principles in reverse.
  • Push rather than pull, pulling can result in mechanically awkward posture increasing likelihood of injury.
  • Pull rather than carry if possible.

External Resources

Please contact if you require assistance assessing your work practices for lifting, carrying and back care.

Updated: 2021-12-04

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