The manual handling of materials is a common cause of workplace lower back discomfort and injury. According to ATAP Division Safety Coordinator Pat Thomas, who presented on the importance of preparation and planning when handling materials at April’s All-to-All meeting held on April 24, 2023, people who “don’t routinely move or lift heavy (greater than 20 pounds) objects typically encounter this hazard when moving to a new workspace or re-organizing an existing space.”

To illustrate the point, Thomas showed a graph of material handling injuries over the past three years at the Lab.

Examples of such injuries in the first quarter of this year included:

  • An employee lifted multiple pieces of equipment weighing 36 pounds each and later experienced numbness in their arm and fingertips.
  • An employee experienced lower back discomfort associated with several factors, including needing to rush to handle catering supplies, including coffee dispensers weighing 15-20 pounds from the caterer’s location, in/out of a car, and into the conference room.

Tips for correct materials handling include:

  • Use mechanical aids, such as hand trucks and carts, whenever possible
  • When manual handling, ensure you have a good grip on the load
  • Keep the load close to your body
    • Head forward, back straight, and butt out; like sitting in a chair
    • Avoid bending or twisting
  • Ensure you keep communicating during 2-person lifts

The WorkSmart Ergonomics (EHS0062) class provides information and techniques focused on injury prevention using selected martial arts, ergonomics, movement science, industrial psychology, and practical work experience. The course includes principles and safety factors associated with proper body mechanics for a wide range of activities both at work and in daily life.

These are the steps to follow when you plan to move objects:

  • Assess/identify the weight… give it a gentle kick or shove
  • Do not exceed what you can comfortably lift and carry
  • Get help with heavy/awkward loads
  • Keep walkways and aisles clear while packing, moving, and unpacking
  • Check that the path is clear of obstacles and slip/trip hazards
  • Avoid stairs whenever possible. When carrying loads up/down stairs, handle only light objects that can be carried in one hand while the other hand holds a handrail

Please get in touch with Pat Thomas ( or the Engineering Division’s Leigha Rose ( for advice and help related to materials handling and all other safety-related issues. When planning a move, contact Senior Administrator Wes Tabler (

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