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Lifting, Vibrations, and Back Care Tips


Low back pain is the number two reason why people see their doctor (NIH, 2006). Approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain sometime during their lives. People increase their risk for developing low back pain by completing tasks that require heavy lifting, repetitive stress, bending and twisting, and body vibration. Poor posture, age, medical conditions, body weight, smoking, and exercise habits also contribute to the risk for low back pain.

Industrial Ergonomics Screening Tool

This webpage contains the following sections:

Lifting and Manual Handling Guidelines
Tips for a Healthier Back


1. Assess the situation prior to lifting or moving an object

Is there equipment you can use to move the object (e.g. a hoist or hand truck)?

Use available equipment to safely move the object.

  • Is the object too heavy to lift by yourself?
    • Lift one of the corners to assess the object’s weight.
    • Determine if the object can be disassembled into smaller, more manageable parts.
    • Recruit additional people to help you.
    • When in doubt, don’t lift the object without assistance.
  • Is the object too awkward to carry?

Do not lift the object without assistance if it is too awkward to carry.

  • How far do you have to carry the object?

Seek assistance if you have to carry loads for a long distance.

  • Is the path that you will carry the object free of debris, obstacles, and stairs? Is the surface of the path safe (i.e. not slippery)?

Do not attempt to carry loads across unsafe surfaces.

  • Will your view be obscured while carrying the object?

Do not attempt to carry loads if you cannot see where you are going.

  • Use proper lifting technique.

2. If lifting by hand, use the "Power Position”

      1. Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other
      2. Bend your knees slightly
      3. Your seat should be out a lot
      4. Press your chest forward – maintain the neutral spinal curvature
      5. Keep your head up
      6. Get good grip on the object
      7. Contract the abdominal muscles
      8. Hold the object close to your body
      9. USE YOUR LEGS, NOT YOUR BACK to lift the object
      10. Lift the object with a smooth, non-jerky movement

3.  Carry the object

  • Avoid twisting movements. Use your legs to turn, not your back.
  • Hold the object close to your body at waist level
  • If needed, set the object down to rest

4. Lower the object

  • Contract your abdominal muscles and maintain the normal spinal curvature.
  • Hold the object close to the body
  • While looking forward, bend your knees and slowly lower the object

Additional Lifting/Handling Tips:

  • Take frequent breaks to interrupt repetitive lifting.
  • Use a stool or ladder to reach loads that are above your shoulders. Get as close to the load as you can and slide the load toward you. Do the work with your arms and legs, not your back.
  • Take extra care with loads under racks or cabinets. Pull the load toward you. Try to support the load on one knee before you lift. Use your legs to power the lift.
  • Slide objects instead of lifting and carrying them.
  • Push objects instead of pulling them.
  • Plan tasks to decrease the amount of times items need to be lifted/moved (CCOSH, 2006).
  • Alternate tasks to avoid continuous lifting. Take a break from continuous lifting tasks (perform alternative tasks, stretch, etc.).
  • Use hand trucks and push carts to assist with moving an object. For extremely heavy objects, have an authorized forklift operator use a forklift to move the object.
  • Design your workstation to avoid excessive bending, twisting, and stretching. Use tool supports for prolonged tool use.



Workers that use hand-held vibrating tools increase their exposure to the risk of neural, vascular, and musculoskeletal disorders. Vibrations generated from impact with the work surface, the motion of a piston (e.g. a jackhammer), the motion of a tool’s engine, or unbalanced rotating mass are attenuated primarily through the musculoskeletal system (NIOSH, 1989). Factors that influence the effect of vibration on the body include:

  • tool type and maintenance,
  • tool use duration and work conditions,
  • grip force on the tool handle,
  • muscular force applied to the tool,
  • body position,
  • work clothing and gloves,
  • worker’s skill,
  • noise,
  • worker’s physical condition, and
  • use of tobacco and/or other chemicals (e.g. drugs).

The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (1989) recommends the following to prevent the occurrence of a vibration-related injury.

  • Reducing the source of the vibration:
    • Use the amount of power necessary to complete the job. Many tools do not need to be operating at full throttle to complete a task.
    • Follow proper tool maintenance. Tuned engines can reduce vibration levels. Sharpened blades and newer grinding surfaces reduce the duration of the exposure to vibration.
  • Reduce the transmission of vibration through features such as special grip handles, dampened engine mounts, and shock-absorbing exhaust mechanisms.
  • Reduce exposure to vibration:
    • Determine if vibrating tools are necessary to complete the job. Used automated techniques if possible.
  • Alternate work tasks to avoid prolonged vibrating tool use.
    • Limit the use of vibrating tools (especially high-acceleration tools) to 1 or 2 days per week.
    • Take rest breaks to decrease the exposure to vibrating tools.
  • Protect the hands from exposure to cold temperatures.
  • Participate in training to learn how to use/maintain the tool, schedule work and rest, and recognize the early symptoms of a vibration-related disorder.
  • Participate in periodic medical examinations.


The following tips can help reduce exposure to the risk of developing back pain or impairment.

  • Maintain the natural curve of the back, especially when lifting or sitting. The back is best supported when it is in its neutral posture.
  • Alter your position frequently for prolonged standing and sitting.
    • Rest your foot on a step while standing.
    • Stand up to break up the duration of prolonged sitting.
    • Take breaks during long drives.
    • Remover your wallet from your back pocket while sitting.
  • Exercise to promote overall musculoskeletal strength and endurance, enhance cardiorespiratory fitness, improve body composition, and maintain flexibility.
  • Purchase a supportive mattress and pillows.
  • Use bags and backpacks that hold loads close to the body, distribute forces evenly, and have wide straps. Do not carry heavy loads in backpacks.
  • Wear cushioned shoes. Avoid high-heels.
  • Quit smoking.


For help with ergonomics the Stanford University community may contact EH&S at 723-0448 or email.


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