Improper lifting is a pain in the back—literally. One in five workplace injuries are back-related. Plus, manual handling done wrong can aggravate old injuries. Ouch!

If you want to learn the correct, ergonomic way to lift objects, keep reading. You’ll learn the crucial steps to take when lifting and moving objects so you can do it safely and without injury.

Inspect the objectMan placing a box on a shelf in a warehouse.

First, you’ll want to inspect the object you’re about to lift.

Check for any damage like tears or spills, as this could be riskier to lift and move. Take a look at the shape of the object, whether it has handles, and the texture of its surface. This will help you figure out the best way to hold the object ready for moving it.

Test to see how easily you can move it—a small object can be heavy and a large object can be light, so it’s best to determine if you’re able to lift it on your own first.

Ask for help

If you’ve tried lifting the object and it just feels too much of a struggle, don’t risk it. Instead, ask someone to help you! Many hands make light work, but be sure to plan out how you’ll lift it together so you don’t injure each other.

Assess where you’re moving it to

Next, make a plan of how you’ll transport the object. Is there a clear path to its destination? If there are any obstacles, plan how you’ll move around them safely, or remove them entirely if you can. If you will be using a ladder or any ergonomic equipment, check to ensure it’s sturdy.

If the ground is uneven, for example, if there are steps, broken floorboards, or carpet that could trip you up, be aware of it and make sure you don’t obstruct your view as you move the object, to avoid falling over.

Start in a safe position

To distribute the weight of the object evenly, keep your legs slightly bent, with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can even try putting one foot slightly ahead of the other to brace the object when you go to pick it up. This uses your legs and core muscles instead of relying on your weaker arm and upper torso muscles.

Make sure you’re wearing the correct footwear. Wearing heels as you lift can cause extra stress on your feet and pose a tripping hazard if you lose your balance. Open-toe sandals could mean a trip to the emergency room if you drop the object on your feet. Flat shoes with enough grip on the bottom to prevent slipping are your best bet when lifting.

Squat, don’t bend

Illustration showing how to lift a box properlyYou never want to bend your back to pick something up! You risk pulling back muscles and causing back injuries. Instead, use the power of your legs and squat down to lift the object safely. This means a straight back, bending at the knees, and not leaning forward to pick up the object.

If the object is on the floor, you can try kneeling to pick it up but it’s best to try this before you attempt to lift the object. if you find it too difficult, just lift by squatting, bending at the knees rather than from your waist.

Maintain a proper posture

Moving slowly after gripping the item, keep your posture straight. This means a straight spine, with your head and shoulders back, eyes facing forward. It can help to engage your abdominal muscles to keep your body in the correct position for a stable, controlled lift. Remember to keep your feet flat on the ground.

Lift slowly

To minimize the risk of injuring yourself, either by pulling a muscle, falling, or dropping the object, exercise patience and move slowly. Deliberate movement will make sure that you stay in control of moving the object and protect your body. Avoid making any jerking movements. Moving slowly ensures you can keep an eye on your posture, too.

Breathe normally

It’s tempting to hold your breath while lifting an object from place to place. Holding your breath while you’re exerting yourself can cause dizziness, elevated blood pressure, and headaches. Just like when you perform any exercise, you need to feed your muscles with oxygen! Keep breathing steadily as you move and you’ll find it easy to complete the lift.

Hold the object close

Keeping the object close to your torso around your belly button makes the lift easier and reduces the chance of injury.

Avoid lifting an object above shoulder height or out in front of you with extended arms. Doing so can put unnecessary pressure on your back and lead to injury. Plus, it’s harder to see where you’re moving the object if it’s obstructing your view or out of your line of sight, and this could result in an accident.

Change direction with your feet

It’s tempting to twist at the waist to move around with an object, but this could lead to muscle tearing and back injuries. If you must change direction while holding the object, you can move with your feet first, keeping your shoulders in line with your hips. Take small, controlled steps and don’t lunge or tiptoe.

Use the same technique when placing the object down

Illustration showing how to place an object down properly. You’ve reached your destination with your object? Great! With the same level of care in mind, take the same approach to setting the object down.

That means a nice, straight spine, no twisting or reaching too far forward. Let your legs take the weight of the object and squat from the knees and hips to set it down safely and slowly.

And you’re done!

In summary

Although workplace injuries from lifting incorrectly are common, they can be easily avoided when you lift correctly.

As a reminder, this means:

  • Assessing the object and the surrounding area
  • Asking for help if you need it
  • Bending from your legs, not your waist
  • Slow, controlled movements
  • Avoiding twisting movements

Practice proper, ergonomic lifting techniques whenever you’re lifting any objects to avoid back, neck, or shoulder pain.