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RegSenseezExplanationEnforcement and Audits - OSHASafety and Health Programs and TrainingSafety & HealthErgonomicsGeneral Industry SafetyGeneral Duty ClauseLifting and Back SafetyBest ResultsSafety and Health Programs and TrainingFocus AreaOccupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC)EnglishGeneral Duty ClauseErgonomicsUSA
Ergonomics — Back safety for warehousing
Let’s face it. Warehousing and storage involves the movement of products, not just with materials handling equipment like forklifts, conveyors, and overhead cranes but also by hand. Manually handling loads, in turn, puts a lot of strain on an employee’s back.
In fact, in the warehousing and storage industry, injuries and illnesses involving the back account for more than one in five of all injury and illness cases involving days away from work (DAFW) each year, making back disorders a top concern. Some disorders are serious enough to require surgery; some lead to permanent disability. While many people think that back disorders are acute and come from a single lift of a heavy or awkward load, back disorders often result from relatively minor strains that occur chronically over time.
The good news is that whether acute or chronic, most back disorders are preventable. Back safety applies ergonomic principles to any lifting or manual handling task. Teaching safe lifting techniques, for example, is a proven way to reduce employee lost time and workers’ compensation costs related to back disorders. However, training is only half of the back safety picture. A complete back safety effort will also include the identification of back hazards at your warehouse or storage facility, implementing engineering and administrative controls to reduce or eliminate those hazards, and managing any reports of back disorders.
Did you know
Almost 21 percent of the injury and illness cases involving days away from work in the warehousing and storage industry (NAICS 493) are caused by overexertion in lifting or lowering, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
While there is no federal OSHA regulation specifically on back safety, safe lifting, or ergonomics, all employers in the warehousing and storage industry are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act if they have one or more employees. The Act requires covered establishments to provide a safe and healthful workplace. If your facility fails to protect its employees from back hazards, OSHA can still cite you under the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) of the Act. So, it’s important to identify tasks that present back hazards, so that you can implement ways to control those hazards and prevent back disorders.
Before issuing any citation alleging ergonomic hazards, OSHA will consider the evidence in the particular case, as well as other relevant factors. The basic criteria the agency will use in deciding whether to cite an employer are those imposed by the General Duty Clause itself:
- Whether an ergonomic hazard exists;
- Whether that hazard is recognized;
- Whether the hazard is causing, or is likely to cause, serious physical harm to employees; and
- Whether a feasible means exists to reduce the hazard.
OSHA will not focus its enforcement efforts on warehouse and storage facilities that are making good faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards at the location. Note that OSHA has issued citations to companies that have evidenced corporate commitment to lowering ergonomic hazards in their workplaces but have failed to effectively implement that commitment at specific sites.
- Section 5(a)(1) the Occupational Safety and Health Act – General duty clause.
Related regulations include:
- 29 CFR 1904 — Recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses.
- 29 CFR 1910.132 — General requirements for personal protective equipment.
- 29 CFR 1910.1020 — Access to employee medical and exposure records.
Note: Employers should check to see whether their states require any ergonomic or safe-lifting protections. Some states, such as California, may have specific requirements.
On March 7, 2001, the U.S. Congress voted to dissolve the Ergonomics Program Standard (29 CFR 1910.900 and Appendices) that was promulgated November 14, 2000. President G. W. Bush then signed this legislation into law and overturned the Ergonomics Program Standard on March 20, 2001. Since then, federal OSHA has been prohibited from issuing a rule that is substantially the same as the former one.
- Administrative controls: Management-dictated work practices and policies to reduce or prevent exposures to ergonomic risk factors. Administrative control strategies can include changes in job rules and procedures, such as scheduling more rest breaks, rotating employees through jobs that are physically tiring, and training employees to recognize ergonomic risk factors and to learn techniques for reducing the stress and strain while performing their work tasks.
- Awkward posture: A deviation from the neutral position of any joint requiring muscle activity to maintain the body position. Examples include, but are not limited to, twisting, bending, kneeling, squatting, stooping, or working over shoulder height. Body postures determine which joints and muscles are used in an activity and the amount of force or stresses that are generated or tolerated. For example, more stress is placed on the spinal discs when lifting, lowering, or handling objects with the back bent or twisted, compared with when the back is “straight.”
- Back: The trunk of the body from below the neck (cervical spine) to the tailbone (sacrum). The back includes the upper, middle, and lower back.
- Cold temperatures: Exposure to excessive cold while working. Tendons and joints can become stiff if the environment is cold or the employees are handling cold objects. Dexterity and hand sensitivity is reduced.
- Contact stress: Stress resulting from occasional, repeated, or continuous contact between sensitive body tissue and a hard or sharp object. This contact may create pressure that can inhibit blood flow, tendon and muscle movement, and nerve function. Contact stress commonly affects the soft tissue on the fingers, palms, forearms, thighs, shins, and feet.
- Days away from work (DAFW): Days away from work to recuperate from a work injury or illness.
- Engineering controls: Physical changes used to prevent and control musculoskeletal disorders by designing the job, including the work area layout, selection and use of tools, and work methods, to take account of the capabilities and limitations of the workforce.
- Ergonomic risk factors: Certain workplace conditions and job task demands that may pose a risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Risk factors that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders include repetitive (frequent) motion, awkward postures, forceful exertion (including heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying of heavy objects), static or prolonged postures, vibration (such as whole-body vibration), and contact pressure. Jobs or working conditions that combine risk factors will increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders.
- Ergonomics: The science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities and limitations of employees. Ergonomics is a multidisciplinary concept rooted in the design of jobs, tools, and workstations to fit the capabilities and limitations of employees.
- Force: The amount of mechanical effort required to perform a movement or action. Examples include lifting and pushing. Some of the elements of force include load, friction, mechanical assists, balance, torque control, rate of work, personal protective equipment, maintenance, and quality control.
- Herniated disk: A rupturing of the tissue that separates the vertebral bones of the spinal column.
- Hot temperatures: Exposure to excessive heat while working. Such exposures can lead to muscle fatigue.
- Lifting task: The act of manually grasping an object of definable size and mass with two hands, and vertically moving the object without mechanical assistance.
- Load: The object to be manually handled, such as by lifting or carrying, including the container.
- Load weight: Weight of the object to be lifted, in pounds or kilograms, including the container.
Did you know
Musculoskeletal disorders account for almost 47 percent of all injuries and illnesses involving days away from work in the warehousing and storage industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs): Disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs that are not typically the result of any instantaneous or acute event (such as a slip, trip, or fall) but reflect a more gradual or chronic development. These disorders can be diagnosed by a medical history, physical examination, or other medical tests and can range from mild and intermittent to debilitating and chronic. MSDs include low back pain.
- MSD hazards: Physical work activities and/or physical work conditions, in which ergonomic risk factors are present, that are reasonably likely to cause or contribute to a covered MSD.
- NIOSH lifting equation (revised): A lifting equation initially developed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to calculate a recommended weight for specified two-handed, symmetrical lifting tasks. The revised lifting equation reflects new findings and provides methods for evaluating asymmetrical lifting tasks, and lifts of objects with less than optimal couplings between the object and the employee’s hands. The revised equation also provides guidelines for a more diverse range of lifting tasks than the original equation. The result of the equation is the weight of the load that nearly all healthy employees could perform over a substantial period of time (e.g., up to eight hours) without an increased risk of developing lifting-related lower back pain.
- Neutral body position: The position of the body when the hands are directly in front of the body and there is minimal twisting at the legs, torso, or shoulders.
- Neutral posture: The position of a body joint that requires the least amount of muscle activity to maintain. The back is neutral when standing up straight.
- Package: Material or object in a container where the contents are not known and the weight cannot be ascertained by the handling employee, e.g., a cardboard box containing cans of paint.
- Repetition: Doing the same motions over and over again places stress on the muscles and tendons. The severity of this risk factor depends on how often the action is repeated, the speed of movement, the number of muscles involved, and the required force. Tendons and muscles can often recover from the effects of stretching or forceful exertions if sufficient time is allotted between exertions. Employee rotation is one method of reducing exposure to repetitive risk factors.
- Restriction: Any limitation placed on the manner in which an employee performs a job or task during the injury or illness recovery period. Restrictions refer collectively to any of the following: alternative duty assignment, alternative work, light duty, job modifications, job restrictions, and modified duty.
- Severity rate: The number of lost workdays due to work-related MSDs occurring in a year per 100 full-time equivalent employees. Severity rates are calculated as follows: (number of lost workdays) x (200,000 hours or 100 full-time equivalent employees)/(work hours per year/or number of full-time equivalent employees).
- Sprain: Overstretching or overexerting a ligament resulting in a tear or rupture of the ligament.
- Strain: Overstretching or overexerting a muscle or tendon. This can include the tearing of a muscle and can be accompanied by bleeding of the muscle. Symptoms include irritation, pain, and discomfort.
- Static postures: Physical exertion to hold a position throughout the task. Examples include holding arms out or up and prolonged standing.
- Transfer: Assigning an injured or ill employee to a job other than his or her regular job for any part of the day or days.
- Unassisted frequent or forceful manual handling: Lifting, lowering, carrying, handling, or pushing/pulling objects without assistance from mechanical devices.
- Vibration: The oscillatory (or jolting) motion of a physical body. Whole-body vibration is often associated with low back disorders. Whole-body vibration can occur while standing or sitting in vibrating environments, such as when operating heavy-duty vehicles.
- Work practice controls: Changes in the way an employee performs the physical work activities of a job that reduce exposure to MSD hazards. Work practice controls involve procedures and methods for safe work. Examples of work practice controls for MSD hazards include following proper lifting techniques and using of two-person lift teams
Summary of requirements
While federal OSHA does not “require” employers to put in place a back safety program, a sound, flexible framework for addressing back safety issues may include the following elements:
- Appoint people to coordinate your back safety program efforts and communicate with management and employees.
- Examine your existing policies and practices to ensure that they encourage and do not discourage reporting and participation in your back safety program. In this way, early reporting of back disorders, back disorder signs and symptoms, and back hazards and meaningful employee participation in the program are more likely to occur.
- Identify back hazards in the workplace. Review your injury and illness logs. Walk around your facility to observe employee postures and lifting and determine the weight of objects lifted. Consider videotaping your walkaround for later viewing. Review or perform job safety analyses. Identify tasks involving risk factors for back disorders.
- Control back hazards and prevent back disorders using measures such as engineering, administrative, and work practice controls. Materials handling equipment may be necessary. Use personal protective equipment to supplement these controls. Train employees in safe lifting techniques, proper diet, and proper exercise. You may wish to institute a physical conditioning or stretching program.
- Inform employees how to report signs and symptoms of back disorders, how they can learn more about safe lifting techniques, and how they can participate in the program.
- Implement a back disorder signs/symptoms reporting system for employees.
- Manage back disorder incidents when they occur to employees.
- Thoroughly evaluate and, as necessary, promptly take action to correct any deficiencies in your back safety program.
- Record any back disorders if they are recordable injuries or illnesses, in accordance with 29 CFR 1904.
- Maintain any employee exposure and medical records related to your safe lifting program in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.1020.
Editor's Note: Sources of this ezExplanationsTM section are listed in the Acknowledgements section.
READ MORESHOW LESS
['General Duty Clause', 'Enforcement and Audits - OSHA', 'Ergonomics', 'Safety and Health Programs and Training']
['Lifting and Back Safety', 'Safety and Health Programs and Training', 'General Duty Clause', 'Ergonomics']
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