Dealing with the leading cause of injury in the distribution industry

There isn’t a distributor or wholesaler out there that doesn’t understand the importance of proper lifting technique.

There isn't a distributor or wholesaler out there that doesn't understand the importance of proper lifting technique. Better yet, there isn't an employee, distributor or wholesaler that wants a back injury.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer from back injuries each year, which represents one quarter of all lost time workers' compensation claims.

Not only does the employer not want their workers to suffer back pain, but it can also result in very costly insurance claims.

So, how do we educate ourselves to help mitigate this type of injury?

Depending on the type of distributor you are, the size of the load will make a difference. If a large load of goods are being transported and are palletized, manual lifting generally may not occur.

However, in the case of a beverage distributor, the employee is dropping off heavy cases of water or beer to a client, so proper lifting techniques, or even hand carts are a must.

Guidelines for proper lifting techniques may include the tips I've included below. OSHA's list of factors associated with back disorders also points out some important "don'ts" such as lifting with forceful movement and reaching while lifting.

  • Keep your back straight and legs bent.
  • Hold the load as close to the body as possible and keep your elbows close to your body.
  • Keep a wide balanced stance, with your feet shoulder width apart or wider.
  • Test the load before you lift it, and correct any instability or imbalance, or redesign the lift to as to avoid twisting.
  • Avoid twisting, especially when bending forward while lifting. Turn by moving the feet rather than twisting the torso. Inspect the surrounding area, hallways or any other space involved to ensure that you have a clear path in advance.
  • Communication between the parties will lead to coordination of actions.
  • Rotate employees, providing a short break every hour, or use a two-person lift.
  • Specifically for beer distributors, install a lift gate on the trucks so that kegs can be transported to the gate and lowered to a height for unloading which will not require excess torso bending.

To ensure that proper lifting techniques are being used by the employee, it may be helpful to have a designated safety manager on staff to provide specific training on proper lifting techniques and other safe work practices, hazards and controls.

Studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that one-third of compensable back injuries could be prevented through better job design (think: ergonomics). However, there are a lot of other factors involved that have to do with the individual, such as age, length of service and health conditions. Employees should also take part in preventing their own back injuries by knowing their limits and alerting their supervisors to their limitations or injuries. Under a doctor's supervision, there may be things that the person can do to strengthen their back or other exercises to help prevent injury.

In our experiences with these types of insurance claims, it's also important that the safety practices are tailored specifically to the potential risk or risks involved. For example, for delivery workers that set their own schedule, it may help to develop and enforce a work-rest schedule (such as having a 15 minute break every two hours) to help prevent additional strain on the body.

The bottom line to help protect your workers and your company?Identify all exposures to potential workplace injury risks. These are potentially critical to ensuring any distributor's success in managing a healthy environment.

Additional information regarding these administrative and engineering controls can be found on the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website.

My company also has the ability to access additional documentation via our fabulous Risk Engineering department. Let me know if you need any help in providing that safe environment.