Oregon OSHA Construction Depot Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

June 2017

Manual material handling: Reduce the strain to ease the pain


Overexertion was the top cause of disabling injuries for construction workers in 2016, accounting for more that one-third of accepted workers compensation claims in residential construction, heavy construction, and the specialty trades. Unlike the sudden trauma of falling on an unforgiving surface or being struck by equipment, most overexertion injuries are caused by handling materials improperly, such as lifting, carrying, or holding unbalanced materials in a way that puts undue stress on soft tissues.

Manual material handling includes all of the tasks that you do to lift, lower, push, pull, hold, or carry materials; that's why overexertion injuries are common in all types of construction – residential construction, heavy construction, and the specialty trades.

But there are really only four reasons why most construction-related overexertion injuries happen:

  1. Workers bend and twist their backs when they pick up materials.
  2. Workers hold materials overhead or away from their bodies for long periods.
  3. Workers repeatedly lift, hold, and place heavy materials without taking a rest break.
  4. Workers hold materials too far away from their bodies.

Want to reduce your risk of an overexertion injury? Here's your list of things to do.

  • Decide in advance where you want materials placed when they're delivered.
  • Keep materials off the ground to reduce stressful bending and lifting.
  • Don't lift and carry more than 50 pounds alone. Get help from co-workers.
  • Bend your knees and push up with your legs.
  • Hold materials close to your body.
  • Lift heavier lumber at one end – not the center – and walk to the center to lift it.
  • Use tools and equipment to transport heavy materials when possible.
  • Use supports and equipment to hold materials overhead.
  • Use platforms for raising materials to different work heights.
  • Never carry materials in your hands on ladders.
  • Never lift or position heavy materials standing on a ladder.
  • Use mechanical equipment to raise and lower heavier materials.
  • Never support heavy materials on your head.
  • Take short breaks to give muscles and joints time to recover.
  • Use boards or scaffolds to keep blocks, mortar, and similar materials at knee height.
  • Don't twist the body when lifting or placing materials.