Materials Handling Safety - OSHAcademy Online and Free

Course 619 - Materials Handling Safety

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Manual Handling

Image of worker moving boxes.
Manually moving materials all day can be stressful.

Being struck by materials or being caught in pinch points causes fractures, bruises, and crushing injuries. In addition, persons responsible for material handling are subject to several types of injuries and hazards:

  • Back injuries can result from lifting incorrectly.
  • Many injuries occur when using maximum force or jerking to free stuck or frozen objects and parts. It’s important to recognize this hazard and use less forceful means to free the items (penetrating oil with tapping, heaters for ice, long handled tools properly secured, etc.).
  • Moving heavy, and sometimes awkward, loads can result in dropped material, injuring other body parts.
  • Suspended loads are sometimes cut loose, released, or dropped on workers.
  • Uneven, cluttered, and slippery walking and working surfaces can contribute to slips, trips, and falls.
  • Material Handling - Safety Memos
  • Many injuries occur when manually handling materials while loading or unloading pick-up and delivery trucks.
  • The size and design of surface mining machines often restrict operators' vision and makes it impossible to see vehicles and persons close to them.
  • Delivery persons and vehicles are also subject to falls of rock or ore from high walls or banks.

For these reasons, the persons responsible for the handling and delivery of supplies should be trained in all procedures for traffic control, signaling of machine operators, and general hazard awareness.

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1. During manual handling of materials, many injuries occur when _____ to free stuck or frozen objects and parts.

a. trying to pry an object with the fingers
b. using steady pressure on an object
c. using maximum force or jerking
d. static resistance suddenly releases
Safe Lifting Techniques

Lifting and Moving Material

The weight and bulkiness of objects lifted are major contributing factors to injuries. Workers also frequently cite body movement as contributing to their injuries. Bending, twisting, and turning are the more commonly cited movements that cause back injuries. Below are some statistics based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Strains and sprains result from lifting improperly or from carrying loads that are either too large or too heavy. Sprains and strains account for over 40% of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work.
  • Back injuries occur when workers lift heavy or bulky objects, lift improperly, carry excessive loads, or push/pull awkwardly. Back injuries account for over 20% non-fatal occupational injuries involving days away from work.
  • Hands, arms, and feet are also vulnerable to injury during manual handling of materials.
  • Overexertion cases with lost workdays account for over 25% of all lost-workday cases. Most of those cases were due to lifting. Pushing/pulling and carrying also result in large numbers of overexertion injuries.

2. Which of the following are two major factors contributing to injuries when lifting objects?

a. Weight and bulkiness
b. Posture and attitude
c. Number of lifts
d. Slipperiness and vibration

Factors Associated with Back Injuries

Copyright:wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Repeated improper lifting techniques will cause back injuries.

Reaching while lifting is common when loading/unloading pickup trucks. Trucks can be equipped with small mechanical lifts or powered gates. Sometimes conveyors are used to transport supplies or other items, and reaching and twisting while lifting is often involved. Mechanical lifts can also be positioned over conveyors that are used for this purpose.

Back disorders result from exceeding the capability of the muscles, tendons, or discs, or the cumulative effect of several contributors, including:

  • Reaching while lifting
  • Poor posture - how one sits or stands
  • Stressful living and working activities - staying in one position too long
  • Bad body mechanics - how one lifts, pushes, pulls, or carries objects
  • Poor physical condition - losing the strength and endurance to perform physical tasks without strain
  • Poor design of job or workstation
  • Repetitive lifting of awkward items or equipment

If you are overweight, and especially if you have developed a pot belly, the chances for chronic back pain are greater. The extra weight throws your body out of alignment and increases the burden on your back. Infrequent exercise is a major factor, too. A sudden strain on generally unused back muscles often leads to trouble. Watching your weight by having a proper diet and exercise are both sensible ways to help avoid back problems.

3. Each of the following is a contributing factor causing back disorders, EXCEPT _____.

a. reaching while lifting
b. poor posture
c. using mechanical lifts
d. poor physical condition

Manual Handling Precautions

Link to thinkstock photo
Get help when lifting and carrying unwieldy objects.

When moving materials manually, workers should attach handles or holders to loads. In addition, workers should always wear appropriate personal protective equipment and use proper lifting techniques. To prevent injury from oversize loads, workers should seek help in the following:

  • When a load is so bulky that employees cannot properly grasp or lift it,
  • When employees cannot see around or over a load, or
  • When employees cannot safely handle a load.

Using the following personal protective equipment prevents needless injuries when manually moving materials:

  • Hand and forearm protection, such as gloves, for loads with sharp or rough edges.
  • Eye protection.
  • Steel-toed safety shoes or boots.
  • Metal, fiber, or plastic metatarsal guards to protect the instep area from impact or compression.

See OSHA Publication 3151, Personal Protective Equipment, for additional information.

Employees should use blocking materials to manage loads safely. Workers should also be cautious when placing blocks under a raised load to ensure the load is not released before removing their hands from under the load. Blocking materials and timbers should be large and strong enough to support the load safely. In addition to materials with cracks, workers should not use materials with rounded corners, splintered pieces, or dry rot for blocking.

4. When should employees seek help when manually moving materials?

a. When employees cannot see under the load
b. When the load is too bulky to grasp the load properly
c. When employees are lifting bagged objects
d. When more than one object must be carried

Moving Objects

rf123 photo 37671292_s
Could this worker load the pallet without twisting?

Many of the items that must be moved at worksites are heavy, bulky, and/or awkward to handle. The items being handled when back injuries occur include heavy boxes, bags, drums, screens, buckets, guards/covers/doors, bags/boxes of explosives, gas cylinders, belt rollers, and rock. Getting necessary help and coordinating movements with your helper(s) is very important in many of these cases. Use of mechanical lifting/moving aids and safe lifting techniques are likewise important.

Safe site-specific standard operating procedures should be established for common jobs like changing screens and belt rollers, handling drums and gas cylinders, etc.

  • Material handling tasks should be designed to minimize the weight, range of motion, carrying distance, and frequency of the activity.
  • Work methods and stations should be designed to minimize the distance between the person and the object being handled.
  • Repetitive or sustained twisting, stretching, or leaning to one side are undesirable.
  • Corrections could include repositioning bins and moving employees closer to parts and conveyors.
  • Store heavy objects at waist level.
  • Provide lift-assist devices, and lift tables.

Other factors may include constraints on posture, work rates imposed by the process, and insufficient rest or recovery time. Sometimes the work can be varied, allowing one set of muscles to rest while another is used.

When placing blocks under a load:

  • Keep hands in the clear.
  • Blocking materials should be large and strong enough to support the load safely.
  • Don't use materials with cracks, rounded corners, splintered pieces, or dry rot for blocking.

5. Where should heavy objects be stored?

a. Floor level
b. Knee level
c. Waist level
d. Shoulder level

Lifting Objects

rf123 photo 33591147_s
This employee's back is complaining, isn't it.

It's always best to first consider engineering solutions to eliminate or minimize manual handling of materials. Many injuries result from not using handling aids. People should be educated and informed about what devices are available, their safe use, and what should be used in various situations to "take the work out of work" and make it safer.

Split the load into smaller parts, when you can, to achieve manageable lifting weight. Sometimes loads can also be made easier to grasp. Suppliers may be able to help with load size and packaging.

When possible, it’s best to avoid lifts from below the knees or above the shoulders. Sometimes mechanical handling aids can be used to avoid this. And sometimes you can position yourself so the object to move is within a more acceptable lifting range (between the shoulders and knees).

When lifting, consider the following:

  • Can engineering solutions be used to eliminate the lift or reduce the hazard?
  • Break loads into parts.
  • Get help with heavy or bulky items.
  • Lift with legs, keep back straight, do not twist.
  • Avoid lifting above shoulder level.
  • Using handling aids such as steps, trestles, shoulder pads, handles, wheels, lift gates, wheelbarrows, come-alongs, chain falls, overhead hoists, hydraulic jacks, and similar devices.

6. When possible, it’s best to avoid lifts from _____.

a. floor level or above the waist
b. floor level or above the knees
c. below the waste or above the head
d. below the knees or above the shoulders
rf123 photo 14042655
Be sure stacks are stable so they won't topple over.

Stacking Materials

Stacking materials can be dangerous if workers do not follow safety guidelines. Falling materials and collapsing loads can crush or pin workers, causing injuries or death. To help prevent injuries when stacking materials, workers must do the following:

  • Stack lumber no more than 16 feet high if it is handled manually, and no more than 20 feet if using a forklift;
  • Remove all nails from used lumber before stacking;
  • Stack and level lumber on solidly supported bracing;
  • Ensure that stacks are stable and self-supporting;
  • Do not store pipes and bars in racks that face main aisles to avoid creating a hazard to passersby when removing supplies;
  • Stack bags and bundles in interlocking rows to keep them secure; and
  • Stack bagged material by stepping back the layers and cross-keying the bags at least every ten layers (to remove bags from the stack, start from the top row first).

During materials stacking activities, workers must also do the following:

  • Store baled paper and rags inside a building no closer than 18 inches to the walls, partitions, or sprinkler heads;
  • Band boxed materials or secure them with cross-ties or shrink plastic fiber;
  • Stack drums, barrels, and kegs symmetrically;
  • Block the bottom tiers of drums, barrels, and kegs to keep them from rolling if stored on their sides;
  • Place planks, sheets of plywood dunnage, or pallets between each tier of drums, barrels, and kegs to make a firm, flat, stacking surface when stacking on end;
  • Chock the bottom tier of drums, barrels, and kegs on each side to prevent shifting in either direction when stacking two or more tiers high; and
  • Stack and block poles as well as structural steel, bar stock, and other cylindrical materials to prevent spreading or tilting unless they are in racks.

In addition, workers should do the following:

  • Paint walls or posts with stripes to indicate maximum stacking heights for quick reference;
  • Observe height limitations when stacking materials;
  • Consider the need for availability of the material; and
  • Stack loose bricks no more than 7 feet in height. (When these stacks reach a height of 4 feet, taper them back 2 inches for every foot of height above the 4-foot level. When masonry blocks are stacked higher than 6 feet, taper the stacks back one-half block for each tier above the 6-foot level.)

7. What is the maximum height for stacking lumber when manually handled?

a. 6 feet
b. 10 feet
c. 16 feet
d. 20 feet
rf123 photo 33532844
Good gloves can save your hands.

Personal Protective Equipment

Prevention of material handling injuries continues to be a difficult task because of the variety of conditions under which supplies and materials are lifted, moved, and carried. Proper attention to the way lifting is done and the use of personal protective equipment can reduce the number of accidents.

Hand and Foot Protection

  • For loads with sharp or rough edges, wear gloves or other hand and forearm protection.
  • When loads are heavy or bulky, wear steel-toed safety shoes to prevent foot injuries if the load is dropped.
  • Metatarsal protection adds an extra measure of safety.
  • Besides providing the necessary foot protection, shoes should be comfortable, low-heeled, and have nonslip soles.

Hard Hats

  • Hard hats need to be worn where falling objects may create a hazard.
  • This includes hazards from material stored or handled overhead.

8. Why does the prevention of material handling injuries continue to be a difficult task?

a. Little effort to find solutions
b. Political considerations affecting policy
c. Varied conditions under which materials are handled
d. Defunding of OSHA consultation
rf123 photo 92049923
Take adequate precautions to make it another safe day.

Loading, Transporting, and Unloading

Be sure to take the following precautions when loading, transporting, and moving materials.

  • Stage. Think about the loading process and arrange parts and supplies to assure that loading is efficiently conducted.
  • Height. Do not stack material too high, to avoid falling material hazards and muscle strains.
  • Get Help. Obtain help when loads are heavy, and use proper lifting techniques.
  • Mechanical help. Use mechanical loading/unloading facilities when available.
  • Pinch points. Watch out for pinched hands or fingers. Keep fingers from underneath when setting material down.
  • PPE. Wear personal protective equipment, and be careful not to drop heavy objects on feet. Avoid using slippery gloves or lifting slippery objects.
  • Good housekeeping. Slippery floors, crowded work conditions, and tools or other material on the floor can create hazards that can result in a variety of injuries, including back injuries. Be careful of your footing.
  • Arrangement. Arrange parts and supplies/stack neatly. Don't overload vehicles. Secure material to prevent unexpected movement.

Note: Although not specifically "manual handling" problems, consider other precautions for loading, transporting, and unloading, such as:

  • Deliver parts and supplies to side of machine away from stockpiles, or banks and maintain a safe distance from them.
  • Stay away from trailing cables.
  • Be sure vehicle is secured. Place vehicle in proper gear for parking, set brakes, and turn off motor. When parking on a grade, turn wheels into a bank or berm or block them.
  • Use mechanical loading/unloading facilities when available, but be sure you're trained in and cautious of machinery hazards involved. Follow safe operating procedures for equipment being used.
  • When transporting, maintain safe distance from all heavy equipment. Call or signal machine operators and wait for acknowledgement before approaching. Be aware of operators' blind spots and park in areas where vehicle is easily seen.

9. Each of the following is a good manual material handling practice, EXCEPT _____.

a. wearing personal protective equipment
b. getting help when loads are heavy
c. never placing fingers under the load when setting it down
d. using mechanical methods only if absolutely necessary

Moving Trailing Cables

Image of worker pulling cable - mil photo
When pulling cable always wear proper PPE.

Trailing cables are used for carrying electricity from a permanent line or trolley wire to a movable machine, such as used in mining or quarrying. They are heavily insulated and protected with either galvanized steel wire armoring, extra stout braiding hosepipe, or other material.

When moving trailing cables, slips, trips, and falls can occur, and the cables may be damaged, or they may cause damage to other objects. If improper handling is used to move cables, back injuries may result. Be sure to use the following precautions when handling trailing cables:

  • Wear protective rubber gloves when handling energized trailing cables.
  • Use nonconductive hooks designed for cable handling, or other protective devices, to reduce bending and lifting and to prevent cables from contacting the body or clothing.
  • Examine cables for damage before handling.
  • Ask for help when necessary. Use mechanical help, such as slings attached to a powered industrial trucks or bulldozers, as appropriate.
  • Make sure work area is free of tripping hazards. Be especially careful in mud, snow, and icy areas.
  • Maintain safe distance from loose and unconsolidated material.

10. What should you do if the trailing cables are too heavy to manually move them?

a. Pull the cable using levers
b. Use a sling attached to a bulldozer
c. Place the cables on a dollie
d. Call a professional cable mover

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