Safety Focus: Preventing Strain Injuries From Lifting

Safety Focus: Preventing Strain Injuries From Lifting
A recent study of all ALMA claims from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019 showed that strain injuries accounted for 23.5% of the total incurred cost of claims, with strains from lifting making up 7.5% of the total incurred of all claims.

Strain injuries can be devastating to the injured worker and often result in a lengthy recovery. Employers are likely to lose a highly trained and skilled worker for an extended period, which may require a replacement to be hired and/or trained. This is an example of the “hidden cost” of a claim that is not covered by workers' compensation insurance. 


Strain Injuries from Lifting are Controllable

Strain injuries are uniquely difficult to prevent because, in most cases, there is a variety of factors that contribute to how an individual’s body responds to a given stimulus. However, if companies are able to instill good habits in their employees to mitigate those contributing factors, strain injuries can be prevented and the impact of strains that do occur can be decreased. 

Some of the factors that may contribute to an individual experiencing a strain injury include work history, sports or athletic history, general fitness, and fatigue. These factors are also cumulative, which is why many strains from lifting happen while the worker is lifting something they consider routine. Because of this, strategies to reduce strain injuries must also be long-term and cumulative. Proper lifting techniques must be taught, practiced, and reinforced consistently. Team lifts, mechanical lifting aids, and other lifting assists must be taught and identified during a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or other job assessments. If a company decides to implement a stretch and flex program, the program should be followed routinely to ensure that employees get the maximum benefit from the practice. 


Understanding Exposures for Repetitive Strain Injuries

The industries covered by the U.S. Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("Longshore Act") face many exposures to strain injuries. In the course of their duties, workers are frequently required to move heavy and/or bulky objects. Scheduling pressures may influence workers to believe that they cannot take the time to arrange for a mechanical lifting aid or buddy lift. Additional pressure may be felt from their peers if they are perceived to be avoiding moving objects because they are lazy or weak. When performing a risk assessment to develop a strain injury prevention plan, both the physical demands of the work and the cultural influences of the workplace should be taken into consideration and addressed.

While preventing strain injuries from lifting may seem like a daunting task, there are proven steps that you can take to prevent injury and improve workplace efficiency. This process begins by assessing the specific exposures to workers in their particular work environment. 

Photos illustrating some repetitive motion strain exposures can be found on the  Safety Focus: Strains From Lifting page on the ALMA member resource website.

Exclusive for ALMA Members: Strains From Lifting Resource Site

As part of our monthly Safety Focus initiative, the ALMA member resource website has  a page providing safety resources related to strains from lifting. Resources include:

  • OSHA materials and guidelines
  • Illustrated examples of exposures to strains from lifting
  • A facility poster to encourage workers to prevent strains
  • A comprehensive strain injury prevention guidance document
  • Toolbox talks
  • Safety bulletins 
ALMA members may access that page  by clicking here (login required). If you have not yet registered for access,  click here to do so.
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