The top 4 common misconceptions about safe lifting in the workplace

VIT started with the simple, yet ambitious goal of eliminating back injuries in the workplace. Our plan was to combine traditional and emerging safety research and management techniques with advanced technology to give managers and employees simple ways to keep safe on the floor. As we’ve immersed ourselves in the various industries and settings that have the highest risk of injury, we have noticed some common themes and myths about how to lift safely and the place that safety has on the job. In this blog post, we wanted to clear the air and debunk the most common myths associated with safe lifting.


The Myths of Safe Lifting

1. Lighter Objects = Less Likelihood of Injury

Distribution centers ship millions of packages and come in various shapes and sizes. Employees are often taught precautions when lifting heavy packages, often with recommendations like making sure boxes that are over 40 lbs are moved with two-man lifts. But what about the lighter packages? A common misconception is that since a package is light that means form and technique are not as important.

small package

Sure, picking up a 3lb box once or twice with terrible form isn’t going to strain an employee’s back. But what will hurt the back is doing that 10,000 times. On an average, an 8 hour shift employees experience hundreds of repetitions, which adds up to thousands back movements on a weekly basis. And whether its a 40lb box or a 3lb one, those repetitions add up. According to Britannica, Repetitive Strain Injury or (RSI) is as of a result of lifting repetitively until body structure breaks down which is one of the most common workplace injury.

Additionally, form is still important even when lifting light objects. Have you ever met someone that strained a muscle just from bending over to tie a shoe? Muscles are used to being worked in the same way, so when they are made to work in a way they aren't used to, injury can result. Reaching or twisting awkwardly can cause back muscle stress and should be avoided, even if they are the quickest way to pick up a lightweight.

So despite the size and weight of a package, employees should never disregard safe lifting techniques.


2. Production numbers fall with increased safe lifting

There’s an interesting widespread notion that

lifting safely = working slower

However, VIT pilot studies have taught us that lifting safely does not actually equate to working slower. Have you ever watched a professional sport like hockey and see how fast they throw the puck around?

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Hockey players use all the right form to get the puck to accelerate up to over 90 mph while maintaining accuracy. They don’t “deliberately” skate up to the goalie and take an extra second before squaring up the shot. This is a result of constantly training to do things the right way.

In workplaces, there is often a notion mean there has not been adequate training to prep workers to lift safely. Once a worker has practiced enough times on how to safely lift, it should become “muscle memory”, and they can execute safe lifts in an incredibly quick fashion similar to any pro athlete. Unfortunately, to management training is often just a box to be checked off. It doesn’t matter if training was 50% effective vs. 100% effective. As long as it was done, management will consider it a job well done. However, if management invests in processes that requires periodic check-in’s with their workforce post training, it will allow information to travel back up the chain of command faster to test effectiveness of safety training.


3. Safe lifting is only impacted by actions on the floor

According to a study, led by Case Western, Olympians only spend 18% of their day practicing their craft. Much of the remaining time is dedicated towards sleep, wellness, and nutrition.

It can be difficult for many employee to get adequate rest when they are grinding our 40 hours work weeks plus overtime. However, there are things that management can do to be more intelligent about how they deploy their human capital to ensure their employees are able to physically recover. This can be done through dynamic workforce planning, where a companies can combine safety risks, HR information, and advanced analytics to determine the optimal job placement for an employee on a specific day. By avoiding consistently placing employees in strenuous and risky situations, employers can increase output and reduces employee turnover from burnout, injuries, and leaving to find less taxing employment.

Make sure that HR is committed to employee engagement programs to continue listening to the needs and demands of a workforce. Employers cannot control how much sleep their workforce gets, but they can help by focusing on rest, health and wellness.  It is recommended that office workers take 5-10 minute breaks during every hour of work. Why shouldn’t we expect that employees in physically demanding jobs need to take breaks too.


4. One training session on safe lifting is enough

Can you imagine if we let drivers out on the road after a 1-2 hour training seminar on driving? Or letting a jet pilot take an F-22 out for a spin after a single debriefing. Of course not. That’s just asking for trouble, costs, and risking lives.

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When it comes to safe lifting, employees are often given training right when they join a company and then never again. The issue with this is that a new employee will often be overwhelmed by so many different things (“I have to hit my numbers”, “How do I work my jack?”, “Where is that location again?”, etc.), that in the moment they aren’t thinking about safety. Even when the training does stick, safe behavior can regress and break down over time.

We need to provide continual reinforcement on positive behaviors and slowly cut out bad ones. The tricky part is that safety managers are already spread thin and can’t be out watching employees all day long correcting behaviors. What they can do is augment their safety management team with additional staff, like consultants, ergonomists, and physical trainers, and with technology, which is where VIT comes in.  

VIT’s ARC platform automatically gathers safe lifting data for supervisors to review and provides real-time coaching on the floor. Imagine having the equivalent of 8-hours worth of observation to review in just a few minutes and being able to let employees know whether every single lift was safe or not. Interested in learning more about the Arc platform? Contact us today at info@vitinitiative.com!


Do you encounter other myths and misconceptions at your own workplace? Comment and let us know what they are and how you educate against them!