Back Injuries in Construction

Construction is one of the most hazardous industries in the United States, and lower back injuries caused by lifting heavy objects are one of the most common work-related injuries in the construction industry.  According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the number of back injuries in U.S. construction was 50% higher than the average for all other U.S. industries in 1999.  There are some things you can do to help eliminate back injuries on a construction site.  There are some simple guidelines to ensure you are lifting properly.

Proper Lifting Techniques

  • Wear gloves if you are lifting rough equipment.
  • Clear away any potential obstacles before beginning to carry an object.
  • Get a good grip and stable footing. Use your hands, not your fingers, to grip the load, and position your feet so that one foot is next to the load and one is behind it.
  • Get under the load by bending your knees, not your back. This is the most important lifting technique to remember, as bending over at the waist to reach for the object puts strain on your back, shoulder and neck muscles, and can cause serious injury.
  • Keep the load close to your body.
  • Never twist your body when you are lifting. Turn your entire body by using your feet.
  • Do not lift above the shoulders or below waist level.

Size up the Load

Before lifting an object, check its weight and decide if you can handle it alone or if you need some help.   Moving an object that is too heavy or bulky can cause severe injury.  As a general rule, most men should not lift more than 37 lbs (16.8 kg), and most women should not lift more than 28 lbs (12.7 kg). If a particular load is heavier than you can handle, you should do the following:

  • Get someone to help.
  • Break it down into smaller loads if possible.
  • Use lifts or other equipment as aids. These tools were made for heavy lifting.

Lifting as a Team

When others are helping you lift, teamwork is very important. If you’re going to be carrying the load to another place at the construction site, both of you should coordinate this prior to lifting the object. Check the route and clearance. One worker needs to be in a position to observe and direct the other. Lifting and lowering should be done in unison. Don’t let the load drop suddenly without warning your partner.

Get Fit!

People who are in poor physical condition are at greater risk for back problems. A conditioning program that includes aerobics, weight training and stretching exercises will help you prepare your body for the rigors of lifting. If lifting is a regular part of your job, you may also want to consider wearing a back belt for added support.