The official OSHA manual lifting load limit of 50 lbs is a simple guideline for musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention. In reality, keeping your operation injury-proof isn’t that easy. The “40 lbs or less” rule of thumb that most businesses tend to follow as a limit for manually lifting, pushing, or pulling materials and equipment in the workplace is even more effective for preventing most serious MSDs, but it still doesn’t eliminate all of them.
Why MSDs Are Still Caused By 40 lb and Under Payloads
Research shows that even when lifting weights under 40 lbs in certain workplace contexts such as the healthcare field, employees may still experience injury, despite their employer’s best efforts at establishing a safe and productive working environment. We see this regularly in customer facilities, and it can leave both business owners and safety engineers perplexed as to why there still continues to be a safety issue after they’ve invested so much time and resources into following the rules. Not only does MSD injury risk vary by the individual employee, operational safety rules aren’t always followed by employees, and even if they were consistently followed, scales are rarely easily accessible to measure payloads in the moment. Beyond that, material weight alone isn’t always the reason for injury. In some cases, the size or shape of the materials is too unique to be safely lifted and transported using proper techniques.
Another sometimes-forgotten variable is the weight of a manual cart itself in the transport process of lighter payloads. The force required to move the payload plus the cart will also be dependent on the condition of the flooring, any inclines, caster size, and caster tread material. The bumpier or more irregular a surface is, the greater the amount of force needed to transport a cart over top of it, which can make seemingly light loads a safety issue.
OSHA’s 50 lb payload lifting guideline is designed to create a ceiling for what employers and employees can realistically expect to encounter in their operations, but by no means can it account for the seemingly easy, repetitive movements that cause expensive and debilitating injuries like carpal tunnel.
What We Can Do About It
Overhaul Your Workflow: Process and operational design is key for preventing and reducing workplace injury risk. Limiting repetitive tasks and streamlining systems not only makes an operation more efficient, it can mitigate the kinds of often overlooked, intermediate tasks that may still be causing MSD injuries. Overhauling processes can also provide the opportunity to set new guidelines that can be more realistically and consistently followed by employees.
Implement Ergonomic Equipment: Seek out ergonomic equipment to suit applications wherever materials are transported, instead of limiting equipment use to tasks involving 40 lbs+ payloads. Using ergonomic, motorized equipment for transporting lighter materials may also make your entire operation more efficient and increase employee productivity.
Listen To Your Team: Ask employees about which types of activities are still causing strain or over-exertion in your facility. Chances are, they will know exactly which areas are a problem, and listening to them can expedite the process of designing a more effective injury prevention strategy.
Bring In The Experts: Find an ergonomist to review the workplace for any additional MSD risk you may not be aware of. While bringing in a second set of eyes and expertise will help account for any missed injury risks, additionally consulting with an equipment engineer can help you reconfigure a workspace for maximum productivity according to lean business principles. It’s win-win for everyone. At Electro Kinetic Technologies, our engineers provide walk-throughs of customer facilities for this reason.
For more information on workplace MSDs and how to prevent them, connect with one of our experts through the Contact Page. Our staff is always here to help.