Preventing Musculoskeletal Conditions: Part 2, Manual Material Handling

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Todd Meier

What do you do when you occasionally need a couple of strong backs to move a 200-pound portable generator to a different part of the warehouse? What about the pallet of boxes that weigh 75 pounds each?

As I mentioned in my post last week, the Council for Disability Awareness’ Long Term Disability Claims Review listed musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders as the leading case of new disability claims in 2012.1 This can include injuries as a result of improper lifting techniques, which can result in cartilage sprains, spine and joint disorders, and herniated or degenerated disks.

For the last post in our Disability Insurance Awareness Month series on disabling conditions, I’ll discuss how to help encourage and promote safe lifting in the workplace.

Educate Employees

In my work with employees who are struggling to return to work, they often talk about the occasional awkward, heavy objects they are required to manage, resulting in a potentially unsafe lifting task.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has published guidelines2 for maximum lifting, pushing and pulling capacities for those in the manual material handling (MMH) industry based on the variety of variables, such as lifting frequency, distance, floor-to-waist height, waist-to-shoulder height, as well as age and gender.

This is important to use when educating employees on proper lifting techniques, as research shows that the use of proper ergonomic principles can reduce the overall physical demand inherent in MMH tasks. Less physical demand can reduce the incidence and severity of musculoskeletal injuries.

Analyze Your Workforce

If you are concerned about possible risks with particular job classes in your organization, I recommend checking to ensure your company’s job analyses (JAs) are current. Then, taking into account the NIOSH MMH guidelines, compare this with any medically documented work restrictions your employees may have.

You also can determine each employee’s optimum physical capacity. There are software products that can synthesize this information and produce a report that will flag any job duties listed in the JAs that are outside that employee’s capabilities. By doing this, you gain the necessary information to allow you to make the important decisions within your workforce so that each employee is properly suited to task demands.

Ensuring your employees are aware of safe lifting techniques when moving heavy objects can help reduce the potential for injuries on the job and reduce any eventual strain that could result in a larger disability claim. As always, reach out to your disability carrier to help you analyze and properly prepare your employees for MMH — or any other — tasks.


1 Council for Disability Awareness. 2013 Long Term Disability Claims Review. Available at Accessed April 17, 2014.

2 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. Available at: Accessed April 17, 2014.