Material-Handling Aids: Back-Savers, Injury-Preventers

Special Topics in Safety Management
by ckilbourne

Material-handling equipment is a boon to a busy workplace. These aids increase productivity and reduce injuries. But if used improperly, they can be accident-makers.

Material handling is an important job in any facility. Items must be received, transferred, stored, removed from storage, and transferred again to the location in which they’ll be used. Practically everybody in an industrial facility engages in some kind of material handling at some point during the workweek.

For those who do it every day, material handling is a hard job, involving a fair amount of physical effort. All that lifting, lowering, carrying, and positioning can put stress and strain on workers’ bodies.

That’s why material-handling aids are so useful. They help reduce the physical effort employees have to use to get the job done. This important equipment helps them work more efficiently and helps prevent injuries—especially back injuries.

Here are some facts that support the use of material-handling equipment:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a million workers suffer back-related injuries each year. In fact, one-fifth of all workplace injuries are back related.
  • Of the million workplace back injuries, four out of five are injuries of the lower back.
  • Three of those four lower back injuries occur when a worker is lifting materials.
  • What’s more, material handling is also responsible for other types of accidents and injuries—for example, shoulder, elbow, or arm strains. In addition, employees could trip and fall while carrying a load, cut themselves, or drop a heavy object on their foot.

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On the upside, here’s what material-handling aids can do for employees’ workplace safety performance:

  • Material-handling aids reduce ergonomic stress on the body when workers have to move heavy, bulky materials from one place to another. They help prevent back injuries, shoulder injuries, and all the other potential aches and pains from hauling heavy objects by hand.
  • Some mechanical material-handling aids can eliminate the need to lift and lower manually—for example, forklifts, lift tables, cranes, and hoists. Others can eliminate the need to push or pull—for example, conveyors and forklifts.
  • Even manual material-handling aids make the job much easier. For example, hand trucks and four-wheel carts can convert lift/carry tasks into less stressful push/pull tasks.
  • All material-handling aids, whether mechanical or manual, eliminate the need to carry heavy loads.

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This equipment may seem straightforward, but it can pose safety risks if used improperly. All workers who perform any kind of tasks requiring the use of material-handling aids must therefore be trained to use them safely.

When employees have completed this training, they should be able to:

  • Recognize the hazards of material-handling aids
  • Understand how this equipment can help them work more efficiently and safely
  • Take proper precautions when using material-handling aids
  • Handle materials safely and avoid accidents and injuries

During these training sessions, your trainers should discuss:

  • What the company does to protect workers from material-handling accidents and injuries
  • What employees can do to protect themselves and co-workers
  • Types of manual and mechanical aids
  • Hazards of this equipment
  • How to use material-handling aids safely and efficiently

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our review of material handling and talk about responsibility for preventing injuries.


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