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Material Handling - Do's and Don'ts

Tips from the Hartford - June 2009

Many employees in the wholesale distribution industry spend signifi¬cant amounts of time loading and unloading items and lift¬ing heavy materials. This manual handling, and the twisting and turning that occur when they perform these tasks, can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or cumulative disorders (CTDs), such as injuries to the back, shoulder and neck. The cumulative effect of even minor injuries of this nature can become more pro¬nounced over time. 

Standing on hard surfaces for long periods of time can also lead to injuries, all of which can result in serious medical claims and lost productivity for employers.

The Financial Toll on Your Business

CTD and MSD disorders can take a major toll on the body, causing pain and suffering for the employee and having a significant impact on your company's business. In 2003, the average medical claim associated with a CTD was more than $43,000 according to MostChoice.com. And that doesn't include the hidden costs of lost productivity when an employee is disabled or the cost of hir¬ing and training a replacement worker. 

But employee injuries don't have to stop your company from running. There are steps you can take to help reduce your risk, improve safety for your staff, and potentially lower your workers' compensation costs. 

Steps to Minimize Risk 

One of the best steps you can take to help avoid these injuries is to design jobs to avoid manual handling wherever possible. Some companies use automation to minimize the risks associated with lifting heavy items. These include mechanical arms, scissor lifts and convey¬ors. You can also look for ways to: 

  • Make loads smaller or lighter.
  • Improve workstations by changing the height, layout and space requirements.
  • Direct employees to note the weight of the load and any imbalance.

You should also observe the location of machine controls and the way your employees move back and forth between them and the equipment. Look for awkward movements, repetitive motions, and ways to improve efficiency. Sometimes just a small adjustment can make a big difference in improving comfort and decreasing fatigue.

Simple Ways to Help Protect Your Employees - and Your Balance Sheet

Here are other actions your company can consider to help protect your staff and your balance sheet:

  • Stress the importance of good posture whether standing, sitting or walking.
  • Keep workspaces free of clutter. Cluttered areas can cause awkward positions that make handling tasks more difficult. Remove obstacles, such as pallets of paper, which your staff could trip over or reach over unnecessarily during normal work activities.
  • Use proper lifting techniques (see Proper Lifting Techniques chart) that can make a job easier
  • Follow common sense measure to prevent injuries. Adjust the height and location of printing presses and work spaces, see what other equipment is available, and take advantage of training.
  • Appoint someone on your staff to take responsibility for safety issues. Have this person research ergonomics best practices, review resources provided by your workers' compensation insurance company, train employees, and make changes to workspaces as needed.

Defend Against Back Stain with Common Sense

When people stand or sit for long periods of time, their muscles and joints stiffen up, which can lead to injury when they go to lift a pallet of paper or even something lighter in weight.

Back injuries resulting from lifting strain are very common. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that:

  • More than one million workers suffer back injuries each year.
  • Back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries and illnesses.

Perhaps even more startling is that according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lower back pain is the most common cause of disability among people under 45 years of age, and it costs employers about $100 billion annually.

With exposures like this, it's wise to advise your staff on proper lifting techniques. One of the best preventative measures for back injuries is training that includes the do's and don'ts (see Proper Lifting Techniques chart).

Not only can back injury prevention help protect your employees, but it may also be an excellent investment of your time and resources. For additional tips to share with others at your company, The Hartford offers several training tools, including a Back Injury Prevention video that addresses many common problems. Contact your local Hartford agent for more details.

Do Back Belts Help Prevent Injuries?

Few personal protective devices have been as hotly debated as the back belt or back brace. Some say the belts have reduced back injuries among their workers, while others claim the belts may actually cause injury by providing a false security when lifting and pushing heavy material. In 1994 and again in 2000, OSHA conducted two studies on the value of back belts. The result? Both studies determined that the back belts provided neither value nor harm. In fact, they found that workers wearing back belts had the same risk of injury as those who never or seldom used them. However, you may want to determine how your employees feel about them. If the major¬ity of workers consider back belts to be comfort¬able and to provide some protection, then you may want to make them available. 

Take a Stand for Safety 

For employees who stand on hard surfaces during the course of their workday, an anti-fatigue mat is a great investment, and these mats are available at reasonable costs. The dimensions and resiliency of anti-fatigue mats will vary for different locations and applications. For example, the mat for a con¬crete floor requires more thickness than one for a carpeted floor. When choosing a mat, make sure it will cover the entire standing area, with no seams that could cause tripping. The manufacturer can help you to find the anti-fatigue mats that are right for your printing operation. 

In addition, to improve comfort for employees who stand while working, instruct them to follow these tips:

  • Align ears, shoulders and hips vertically
  • Place feet flat on the floor, spaced about shoul¬ders width apart, or one foot on floor with other foot raised, positioned slightly forward and supported on a low stool or crossbar
  • Keep shoulders in neutral position (i.e., not elevated)
  • Position upper arms near sides of body
  • Move forearms so they are parallel to floor
  • Keep wrist in neutral position (knuckles slightly higher than wrist)

Proper Lifting Techniques 


  • Think before lifting. Before reaching, consider how heavy the object is and how far you'll have to carry it.
  • Lift with the legs. Since leg muscles are stronger than back muscles, bend at the knees and lift with the legs to lessen the pressure on the back.
  • Get help. If a box of files, printer or copier paper, or your marketing collateral, laptop and projector are too heavy to lift, use a specialized roller cart designed just for these items.


  • Avoid planning - just to save time.
  • Bend at the waist when lifting - or twist at the stomach while turning. Both can cause injury.
  • Lift or carry heavy items without asking for help.

To receive future issues of The Hartford's industry newsletter for wholesaler-distributors, Packaged to Protect, please visit http://mb.thehartford.com/wholesalersnews.


The information provided in these materials is of a general nature, based on certain assumptions. The content of these materials may omit certain details and cannot be regarded as advice that would be applicable to all businesses. As such, this information is provided for informational purposes only. Readers seeking resolution of specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns regarding this topic should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. The background presented is not a substitute for a thorough loss control survey of your business or operations or an analysis of the legality or appropriateness of your business practices. The information provided should not be considered legal advice.

The Hartford does not warrant that the information of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. Further, The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation will result in compliance with any health, fire or safety standards or codes, or any local, state, or federal ordinance, regulation, statute or law including, but not limited to, any nationally recognized life, building or fire safety code or any state or federal privacy or employment law.) The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf, or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations, operations or practices are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Possession of these materials by a licensed insurance producer does not mean that such producer is an authorized agent of The Hartford. To ascertain whether a producer is a Hartford agent please contact your state’s Department of Insurance or The Hartford at 1-888-203-3823.

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