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Proper Lifting Techniques for Fleet Drivers


Accidents cost you time and money. However, we aren’t just talking about driving accidents. We’re also talking about accidents that lead to personal injuries, like failing to use proper body mechanics while lifting something at work.

Without proper body mechanics, your fleet drivers face the risk of serious and potentially lifelong back injuries. Let’s look at some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics so you understand what we mean:

  • More than 1 million workers suffer back injuries each year
  • Back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses
  • Three out of four lower back injuries occurred while the employee was lifting

These accidents are common. If they happen to your employees, it leads to workers’ comp claims and losing team members indefinitely. Any resources put towards preventing these injuries will save you time and money.

If you and your non-CDL drivers learn about proper body mechanics for lifting, your company will have fewer accidents and a reduced cost of loss. This leads to a more efficient and profitable operation.

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How Improper Lifting Causes Injuries

Depending on your business model and market, your drivers may be tasked with lifting a variety of objects throughout the day. This could range from objects as heavy as lawn care equipment to something as light as traffic cones or bottles of chemicals.

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The fact is, regardless of the weight of an object, improper lifting techniques can cause serious injury. These injuries happen when we bend at the waist to pick something up.

Bending at the waist causes injuries because the back is not a lifting device, but when we bend at the waist to pick something up, we’re forcing our back to lift it.

The back muscles and spine are only meant to support our torso and head. They aren’t meant to lift the torso and head, let alone the weight of another object we’re holding.

So, when your drivers bend at the waist to pick something up, they’re risking serious injuries to their back and spine such as:

  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle/ligament tears

These injuries can last a lifetime. Sometimes they require surgery. What’s worse is these injuries are cumulative. That means that they add up over time. One of your drivers may spend years improperly lifting then, one day, bend over to tie their shoe and end up on the floor clutching their back in pain.

The solution? Teach your light-duty fleet drivers about proper body mechanics for lifting.

The Six-Step Plan for Safe Lifting

Hopefully, it’s clear by now that back injuries are serious. They cause pain and suffering for your employees, and they lead to a rising cost of loss for you. That’s why it’s important to teach proper body mechanics for lifting.

There are six steps to safely lifting an object, but first, we need to cover the two most important pointers:

  • Bend at the knees, not the waist. Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Stay square with the object. Do not twist at the waist while lifting or carrying.

Just these two steps go a long way to preventing back injuries, but if you want to completely remove these injuries from your company, it’s important to teach this comprehensive process to your employees.

Step 1: Before the Lift

Lifting injuries are much less likely to happen to people who are in good physical condition. Your employees don’t need to be bodybuilders, but some basic “maintenance” can go a long way:

  • Before starting a shift, warm up by using proper stretching.
  • Get regular exercise. Staying in shape is a key component of preventing back injuries. Even just a daily walk can go a long way to strengthening your muscles.
  • Use proper posture while sitting. This is extremely important for fleet drivers. Many injuries - especially lower back injuries -  happen from sitting incorrectly. Check out this guide from PhysioMed to learn more.
  • Understand your limits. Your employees need to know what is too much for them to lift on their own. As a general rule, we recommend that none of your employees should try to lift something over 50 pounds by themselves.

Step 2: Survey the Scene

  • Check the surrounding area. Do you have a clear path once you lift the object? Remove all tripping hazards from the area to reduce risk of falling.
  • Determine the weight of the object. As we said earlier, your employees should not try to lift something that is 50 pounds or more by yourself. Their risk of injury skyrockets when objects are that heavy. It’s best to get someone to help or to use equipment.
  • Push/pull heavy objects when possible.

Step 3: Use Proper Lifting Techniques

  • Prepare to lift the object. Square yourself with what you’re going to lift. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand close to the object.
  • Bend at the knees. Avoid bending at the waist. Bend at your knees to get down to the object.
  • Get a firm grip on the object.
  • Tighten your core muscles.
  • Lift with your legs. Again, never lift with your back. That’s how injuries happen. Keep the object close to you while you lift it.

Step 4: Proper Carrying Technique

  • Turn and carry the object Even if you are just placing the object directly behind you, turn around and stay square with it. Do not twist your back.
  • Look around while you walk. Pay attention to tripping hazards in the area.

Step 5: Setting the Object Down 

  • Follow proper body mechanics for setting it down. Setting something down is just picking it up in reverse. 
  • Bend at the knees and stay square with it while you set the object down. The risk for injury is the same.

Step 6: After the Lift

  • Assess your body for any discomfort/injuries. Act accordingly.
  • Ask yourself how the lifting process went. Were there unnecessary risk? Why did you take those risks? How can you do it safer in the future?

Common Questions About Proper Lifting Techniques

Q: Do weight belts help with lifting?

A: Yes, but they might not be necessary for your drivers. Weight belts help to reduce stress on the lower back while you lift in an upright position, and it prevents back hyperextension during overhead lifts. If your drivers do not have to frequently lift or lift heavy objects, they are not as important.

Q: Are proper lifting techniques required by OSHA?

A: Not directly, no. However, as we mentioned several times, these accidents are still extremely common and important to prevent. Additionally, OSHA does have the General Duty Clause, meaning Fleet Managers are expected to take steps to prevent common injuries such as lifting injuries.

Q: How do I get my employees to adopt proper lifting techniques?

A: This question is equally important as addressing safe lifting techniques in and of themselves. If your employees don’t put them to use, it’s a waste of time. First, you need to set the expectation with your employees. Let them know that safe lifting techniques are important to preventing serious injuries. And, share your company policies on lifting. Then, you need to train your employees. A program like The Fleet Safety Course covers this topic in detail and makes it easy to get this knowledge to all of your employees. 

Make Safe Lifting Techniques a Norm for Your Drivers

You might be thinking to yourself: this info is great, but how do I get it to my drivers?

The best way is to invest in cost-effective training options. We recommend an online training program like The Fleet Safety Course that teaches your drivers this information in an engaging way. This is the only way to guarantee a reduction in accidents, injuries, and cost of loss.

If investing in training isn’t an option, you can always resort to making PowerPoints, sending emails, playing YouTube videos, etc.

These options are free, but please note that they take a lot of time and energy. What’s worse, you might not achieve positive results.

However, you choose to tackle it, teaching proper body mechanics for lifting is an important part of reducing accidents for your drivers and employees. By preventing future workers’ comp claims and downtime for injured employees, any training investment pays for itself and then some.

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