OSHA Standards Material handling is the movement, storage, and control of goods and products. It can be achieved either by manual or mechanical means. Manual material handling (MMH) relies on force and effort supplied by the human body. It is most common in industrial settings, such as manufacturing or warehousing, but can be found in most any industry. Manual material handling is associated with performing lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, and carrying tasks. The 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index of the top 10 causes of disabling injuries in 2007 (estimated at $52 billion) shows that overexertion represents nearly 13% of all injuries and 24% of all workers compensation costs for the WC insurance industry. Low back pain is a common complaint from performing these activities, but upper extremity disorders such as shoulder pain are common as well.

Proper identification and control of MMH exposures may help t o reduce overexertion injuries and their resulting costs.  Contributing risk factors include excessive weights and forces; frequency and duration; hand distance from body; lifting and lowering vertical distances; and push, pull, and carry distances. The combination of factors determines level of risk and likelihood of MMH injuries.

These risk factors can be reduced through ergonomics or designing the job to fit the capability and limitations of workers. Engineering controls are the preferred method of improving/ reducing risk because they change the physical characteristics of the job (i.e., the work tools, methods, and procedures involved). For example, a lift table could modify the method that an employee would use to lift an object. Once engineering controls have been implemented, administrative controls may be used to supplement and further reduce risks. Examples of administrative controls are training and job rotation.

Tips for Reducing MMH exposures

  • Eliminate or engineer out the task. Several MMH tasks and processing steps can be avoided by redesigning the workstation or the product itself.
  • Reduce the weight or force required to move the load.
  • Increase the object’s weight, and handle mechanically.
  • Never place an item on the floor if it must be picked up again.
  • Convert the motion to a more efficient way of handling. For example, the same amount of force is needed to push 200 pounds as to lift 50 pounds.
  • Keep materials in front of the worker, between knuckle and shoulder level.
  • Use material handling aids. Lift tables and hoists can reduce the need for lifting and lowering, while conveyors, slides, and hand trucks can eliminate carrying, pushing, and pulling.
  • Reduce the distance required to move the load. Work area layout and material handling equipment can reduce or eliminate both travel distance and vertical lift requirements.
  • Keep loads close to the body, providing handles or grips.

Source:  Liberty Mutual – Focus on Safety – LOSS CONTROL ADVISORY SERVICES, July 2010