Washington State University
GENERAL WORKPLACE SAFETY
SAFETY POLICIES AND PROCEDURES MANUAL
Environmental Health and Safety
Back Injury Prevention and Treatment
The University seeks to reduce the number and severity of University-related
back injuries by supporting programs for injury prevention, training, rehabilitation,
ergonomics, and return-to-work. This section outlines procedures to follow
in the event of a back injury and explains departmental and employee responsibilities
for minimizing the possibility of back injury to University personnel. Refer
below for definitions of back terms and parts.
BACK INJURY PROCEDURES
Stop all activity at the first sign of a back injury. Notify
the supervisor and obtain medical attention.
Complete an Accidental Injury Report form. (See 2.24.)
If medical treatment is required or more than four hours of time loss has
occurred, the supervisor also completes a Supervisor's Report form. (See
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that corrective action has been
initiated so that the accident does not reoccur.
Return to Work
Job Safety Analysis
Completing a job safety analysis is an ideal way to evaluate
repetitive operations with a potential for back injury to employees. A job
safety analysis assists in setting departmental policies and training standards
with respect to back injury prevention. See EH&S.
Supervisors are responsible for training their employees in
proper lifting techniques, monitoring their performance, and making recommendations
to reduce potential for back injuries.
Ergonomics are the effects of the work environment upon employees'
physical and occupational health.
Supervisors are responsible for conducting ergonomic surveys of the workplace
and providing any necessary recommendations to unit administrators for corrective
action regarding equipment and facilities.
Chairs and directors are responsible for including the costs
of ergonomic upgrades (e.g., money for anatomical chairs, materials handling
equipment, computer tables) in departmental funding requests.
Preplanning Work Spaces
Items such as lift tables, hoists, conveyors, and elevators
should be designed into remodeling or new construction. By incorporating
these improvements into the basic design of the building or room, long term
costs and accidents can be significantly reduced.
Materials Handling Equipment
Incorporate conveyor systems into operations to reduce materials
Hydraulic, spring loaded, or electric lift tables are available
from materials handling distributors to elevate, lift or rotate heavy or
Overhead cranes and portable hoists are available in several
different configurations with various lifting capabilities.
Certain tools are available that have been ergonomically designed
to reduce back strain, e.g., a snow shovel that has a bend in the handle.
Back belts are designed to support the back and abdomen and
to facilitate the proper position for correct lifting. Back belts may vary
with height and type of support, e.g., inflatable bladders, inserted stays.
Departments wishing to initiate a back belt program are to consult with
Environmental Health and Safety prior to implementation.
Use of back belts is to be a part of a complete departmental back training
Weight Limits for Lifting
- Description of the anatomy of the back,
- Causes of back injuries, and
- Methods for preventing back injuries.
There is no maximum weight limitation imposed by federal, state
agencies or the University. The weight of the object is one of several factors
that may contribute to a back injury. It is up to each department to set
any weight lifting requirements after careful consideration of the jobs
to be performed, the work environment, and employee capabilities. Departments
should seek assistance from Environmental Health and Safety when setting
Each employee is responsible for his or her own personal conditioning
beyond what is provided by the ten-minute departmental stretching and stengthening
Every employee is responsible for reducing his or her chances of back injury
by observing the following guidelines:
Reducing stress can minimize the amount of muscle constriction
in the spinal column area. This in turn assists in back injury prevention.
Several different on and off campus programs are available to assist with
stress reduction. Contact Human Resource Services to obtain a resource list.
The vertebrae, disks and spinal cord require a constant supply
of oxygenated blood in order to maintain good health. The spinal column
benefits from a regular schedule of aerobic exercising, such as, walking
or swimming. Employees should check with a physician to determine an appropriate
form of aerobic exercise.
Additional pressure placed upon the spine of an overweight individual
results in reduced abilities to lift heavy or bulky loads. Overweight employees
may wish to check with a physician to determine whether a weight-control
program is warranted. Health and Wellness Services provides information
on weight control.
Proper posture promotes spinal column health. Avoid slouching.
Keep the abdomen, buttocks and chin tucked in. Hold the head high while
holding the shoulders slightly back. Adjust chairs and car seats to provide
for an upright posture.
The amount and condition of muscle mass influence lifting ability.
Proper strengthening and stretching exercises help reduce the potential
for a back injury.
The use of a small foot rest may reduce back fatigue. Placing
the feet on a stool while sitting rotates the hips backward. Alternating
the resting of one foot on a stool while performing counter work keeps the
back muscles from tightening.
Take the time necessary to make the proper chair heigh adjustments.
Proper support of the back, legs, hips, neck and head reduces back fatigue.
Employees are responsible for using proper lifting procedures
as described in this section and taught by supervisors.
See the PDF version of SPPM 2.76.6
for illustrated examples of "The Eight Commandments of Lifting."
The weight of an object is a major consideration in any lifting
decision. It is important to try to determine this by looking at the shipping
papers or label or by "test lifting" the object.
State of Object
Whether the contents of a package are solid, fluid, or limp
influences how the item is lifted.
Size or Shape of Object
Evaluate an item's size and shape prior to lifting.
Asking for Help
Do not hesitate to ask for help to lift an item. It is
better to inconvenience coworkers for a short time than to make them cover
for an employee with a back injury. Two or more people of the same height
working slowly at the same time help ensure safe lifting. One person should
be in charge, giving the commands when and how to lift.
Preplanning the Lift
Spend a few moments planing the flattest, straightest, and clearest
route. Move any objects that could trip a worker. Look for places to stop
and rest. Ensure that resting places have areas to place the load. Make
sure that the unloading area is clear.
When lifting an item off the floor:
- Bend the knees and squat down directly in front of the load. Keep
the back straight.
- Grasp the item with both hands. Utilize gloves if the item has sharp
or jagged edges.
- Pull the item towards the abdomen.
- Take a deep breath and hold it to tighten the abdomen.
- While utilizing the legs, lift the head, neck and shoulders
first. Then lift the load using the leg muscles. Exhale during the lift.
- Walk to the area where the load will be placed. If turning is required,
turn with the feet. Do not twist the body.
- To unload the item, bend the knees to lower the body and the load.
- Keeping fingers out from under the load, deposit the load and push
it into place directly in front of the body.
Load shelves with the heavy and bulkiest items at waist height.
Place lighter items on the lower and upper shelves.
Hand Trucks and Carts
Utilize a materials handling device when an object is heavy,
bulky, or to be moved a long distance, e.g., up stairs, down a hall, from
one building to another, or to a vehicle. Do not overload a hand truck or
cart. If needed, make two or more trips. Push the load in front rather than
pulling it to reduce the potential of back strain.
When a material handling device is being utilized to unload
a truck, it is usually best to place the material to be moved at the door
of the truck before placing it onto the handcart. If the object is too heavy
to be moved by hand from the vehicle to the ground, use a vehicle with a
powered lift gate (e.g., "Tommy Lift"). Do not lower a loaded
hand truck from the vehicle to the ground. The use of a hand truck or cart
to move material from the vehicle directly to a loading dock is acceptable
When attempting to pass through a doorway with a loaded hand
truck, wheel the hand truck to the side of the door and then open the door
with a free hand. Pull the hand truck through the door.
Use appropriate equipment to reach items resting on platforms
or shelves. Do not stand upon chairs or boxes. A rolling stairway with platform
working surfaces, hand rails, and retracting rollers is recommended. When
using a ladder, do not over-reach. Move the ladder closer to the load.
Slips and Falls
Slips and falls account for a large percentage of lower back
injuries and related fatalities. Prevent slips and falls by keeping in mind
Wear slip resistant shoes or boots outside when snow, ice, frost
or wet leaves are present and inside when working in slippery damp or wet
environments, e.g., barns, laboratories and kitchens.
Allow more time for travel during inclement weather.
Use extra caution when carrying items up or down stairs. Carried
items should not obstruct the view. If possible, keep one hand free to use
the hand rail.
Use an elevator to move items from one floor to another whenever possible.
If an elevator is out of service, wait until it is repaired or obtain assistance
from someone else to carry a bulky item up or down stairs.
Use loading docks when moving bulky items in and out of buildings.
Loading docks are to be kept obstruction free at all times. Identify storage
areas in the vicinity of loading docks by using yellow and black diagonally
Parking in front of loading docks is reserved for vehicles actively loading
or unloading University materials.
Prolonged driving may cause back irritation to personnel with
back injuries or those not used to long hours of driving. Minimize back
- Taking frequent rest breaks. Walking stretches may assist in reducing
- Properly adjusting the vehicle seat.
- Using lower back supporting pads if recommended by a physician.
Shoveling commonly aggravates back problems. Employees assigned
to shoveling duties should be preconditioned to the activity. Preactivity
stretching exercises and frequent stretch breaks may reduce back fatigue.
Lift the load using the leg and arm muscles rather than back muscles. Apply
the same techniques as for lifting of loads from the floor (see above).
Jumping out of or off of vehicles can cause injury. Step off
of vehicles using available steps or bumpers.
Poor lighting can be a contributing cause of accidents which
result in back injuries. Ensure that the lights are on before entering an
area. Do not enter an area if lights are inoperable. Report the problem
to Facilities Services, Operations.
Washington Administrative Code
National Safety Council - Fact Sheets
The vertebrae are a series of 33 bones that provide protection
for the spinal cord. The vertebrae also help to support the portion of the
body between the head and the pelvis. Twenty four of the vertebra are independent
while eleven are fused together to form the tail bone.
A series of 24 pieces of fluid-filled cartilage that cushion
the vertebrae. These discs can rupture (herniate) and lose fluid if subjected
to too much pressure during lifting or twisting.
A complex mass of muscle that supports the spine. These muscles
provide assistance to other muscles in the legs and abdomen when lifting
objects. If these muscles are not kept in condition, they can be damaged
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that run through the
spine from the brain. Damage may occur when the vertebra, disks or back
muscles are injured. Such damage can be permanent, causing severe lifestyle
Conductors of electrical signals from the spinal cord to the
muscles within the body. Thirty-one pairs exit from between the vertebrae
and go out into the body.
A rupture in the abdominal wall caused by strains from lifting.