Health and Safety ReportVolume 11, Issue 2

On Topic

Lift Safelyprint this article

You only have an hour left to work and there is still a truckload of boxes needing to be loaded. Determined to meet the deadline, you pick up the pace, lean over to lift a large package without bending your knees, and suddenly you feel a surge of pain up your back. You've just joined the thousands of workers in Canada who are injured or even permanently disabled by back injuries each year.

It is probably fair to say that every worker who lifts or does other manual handling tasks is at some risk for musculoskeletal injury. About three of every four workers in Canada whose jobs include manual materials handling (MMH) suffer pain due to back injury at some time, accounting for about one-third of all lost work and 40 percent of all compensation costs. Each year, several thousand workers in Canada are permanently disabled by back injuries.
Lifting is the most common cause of low back pain at work in Canada. The number and the severity of injuries can be greatly reduced by preparing and planning for the lift, and practicing safe lifting and handling techniques.

Before: plan and prepare

Dress appropriately. Wear lightweight clothing that is flexible but that won't easily tear, avoiding exposed buttons, zippers or loose flaps that could get caught in the load. Protect your hands and feet by wearing safety boots with toe caps and slip-resistant soles; and protective gloves, appropriate for the materials being handled.

Plan your lift. Make sure that the path to where you are taking the load is clear of obstacles and debris - such as grease, oil, water, and litter - that can cause you to slip and fall. Remove anything that is in the way.

Warm up your muscles with gentle stretches to prepare them for the physical stress of the lift and other handling tasks. This is an especially important step for workers who only lift occasionally and may not be accustomed to handling loads.

Test the load for shifting contents and weight by pulling or sliding it toward you. Determine if you can lift it without overexerting yourself. A big load of the same weight will put more strain on your body than a small load. Do not lift if you are not sure that you can handle the load safely. Get help with heavy or awkward loads, or when possible use equipment such as hoists, lift trucks dollies or wheelbarrows.

Tips for the lift

Specific handling and lifting techniques are needed for different kinds of loads or materials being handled (for example, compact loads, small bags, large sacks, drums and barrels, cylinders, sheet materials like drywall).

There is no single correct way to lift because lifting can always be done in several ways. Because of this, on-site, task-specific training is essential. There are some general lifting rules to follow:

  • Stand close to the load facing the direction that you'll be moving.

  • Place your feet wide apart to keep your balance.

  • Get and keep a good grip on the load using both your hands - not just your fingers. Grasp opposite corners and balance your load evenly between both arms.

  • As you lift keep your back as straight as is comfortable, tightening your abdominal (stomach) muscles.

  • Bend your legs so they do the lifting.

  • Lift the load smoothly, without jerking, keeping it as close to your body as possible.

  • Keep the load in the middle, between shoulder and knee height.

  • Avoid twisting and side bending while lifting. Step or pivot, turning your whole body.

  • Plan where to set the load down, ideally on a raised platform that won't require you to bend down with the weight of the load. Avoid placing loads directly on the floor.

It is also important to take advantage of rest periods to relax tired muscles and recover your strength between lifts to be able to work safely. Switch between heavy loads and lighter ones. Rest more often when it is hot and humid and when it is cold, and take more time to warm up your muscles.

Proper lifting and handling methods can protect you from getting injured. Learn to think before you bend to pick up an object and eventually safe lifting techniques will become good habits.

Resources from CCOHS

Hazard Alerts

Dangers in Bathtub Refinishingprint this article

Refinishing can give a tub new life however exposure to the hazardous chemical methylene chloride used in the process can end a life. Workers can be exposed to methylene chloride - a colorless solvent - by inhaling it or absorbing it through their skin - and the results can be deadly. According to NIOSH, since 2000 at least 14 worker deaths have been linked to the use of stripping products containing methylene chloride in bathtub refinishing. Exposure to as little as 6 ounces (177.4 mL) of a methylene-chloride based product has been enough to cause death. OSHA and NIOSH recently issued a hazard alert to warn bathroom refinishers of the dangers associated with methylene chloride.
Although the solvent has a sweet smell, the odor is noticeable only at levels above OSHA's permissible exposure limits and the ACGIH® Threshold Limit Value (TLV®), so by the time workers smell it they have already been overexposed. In addition, workers can quickly become desensitized to the odor and may be overexposed even if they can no longer smell it.

Health effects

Exposure to methylene chloride can cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea and eye, nose and throat irritation. Higher exposures can stop breathing, and cause coma and sudden death. Once in the body, methylene chloride forms carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, eventually depriving the body of oxygen. Workers with pre-existing heart conditions may be more susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride may cause cancer.

Methylene chloride is highly volatile, easily entering the air, and the vapor can rapidly accumulate in the air of small, enclosed spaces, like a bathroom. It can even displace oxygen in the air, leaving an insufficient amount for breathing.

Worker protection

  • Use products that do not contain methylene chloride or use products with a minimal amount of the solvent.

  • Consider alternative methods such as sanding to remove old finishes; take precautions to minimize or reduce inhalation of particulate produced by sanding.

  • If products containing methylene chloride are used, the workplace air must be tested for methylene chloride. Airborne levels must be kept below applicable occupational exposure guidelines - permissible exposure limits (PELs) or threshold limit values (TLVs).

Workers must be trained on the hazards of working with products containing methylene chloride and what precautions to take, for example:

  • avoid spraying methylene chloride-based products, and leave the room immediately after application to minimize exposure;

  • ensure adequate ventilation; ventilating with a bathroom fan is not sufficient

  • wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators, gloves and eye protection; and

  • use long-handled tools to avoid leaning into bathtubs.

These products will contain additional ingredients which may present additional hazards. Consult the Safety Data Sheet for information on all of the hazards and control measures relevant to the product.

Read the full alert from OSHA and NIOSH.

CCOHS Resources

How to work safely with very toxic chemicals, OSH Answers

Methylene Chloride, OSH Answers

CHEMINFO database: how to identify workplace chemical hazards and how to work safely with these chemicals, including specific information on appropriate respiratory protection and protective gloves

Health and Safety To Go

Podcasts: Cardiovascular Disease and Ganglion Cystsprint this article

This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts discuss the causes and effects of cardiovascular disease and feature an encore presentation on ganglion cysts.

Feature podcast: Heart Health at Work

Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada. Matthew Mayer, Senior Specialist, Mission Information, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, discusses the causes and effects of cardiovascular disease- conditions that disrupt the function or mechanics of the heart and brain. He explains how to identify and respond to emergency events in the workplaces, and what employers can do to address the issue.

The podcast runs 11:04 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

Encore Podcast: Just a Bump or a Ganglion Cyst?

You may find out that the unsightly bump on your hand or wrist causing you pain or discomfort is a "ganglion cyst", and it may be caused by the type of work you do. This podcast from CCOHS talks more about ganglions, what causes them, and how you may prevent them.

The podcast runs 2:29 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!

See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.


Global GHS for Workersprint this article

For many years work has been underway to develop an international, standardized hazard classification and communication system. Now after more than a decade of work, the new global system, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is being implemented around the world. To help you learn about GHS and how this system will be used in workplaces, CCOHS has developed an online course, Global GHS for Workers.

This one-hour course familiarizes you with GHS and how this system will be used in workplaces, and includes valuable practical advice and basic health and safety measures. Some of the general duties of employers and suppliers are also covered.

The information in this e-course is based on the publication "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), 3rd revised edition". It provides a general overview of GHS, from a worker's perspective; however, does not reflect how GHS may be implemented in any specific jurisdiction or country.

The course is intended to help you understand GHS labels, the pictograms for each GHS hazard class and help you find additional information about hazards and protective measures from safety data sheets.

This course is delivered as an on-line e-learning course, designed to help you learn at your own pace and in your own environment at your own convenience.

Register for the course.

Other CCOHS resources:


WHMIS After GHS: An Introduction, free

WHMIS After GHS: How Suppliers Can Prepare, free

HazCom 2012 for Workers

Key topic page: Chemicals & Product Safety


GHS Pictograms and Hazards

MSDS -> SDS: Not Just Dropping the "M"


WHMIS After GHS Fact Sheets, free

WHMIS After GHS: Preparing for Change

Last Word

It's a Date! Upcoming Health and Safety Eventsprint this article

National Day of Mourning April 28

April 28th is National Day of Mourning in Canada. The flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half mast, we will pause, remember those who have lost their lives or been injured in the workplace, and reflect on how to prevent future tragedies.

You can wear your support with a Day of Mourning commemorative pin. Or, you can download and display the free posters in your workplace. Printed posters are also available at a cost. To receive your materials in time, you should place your orders by March 31st.

Steps for Life Walk May 5

On May 5, 2013 in cities across Canada, the Steps for Life 5 KM Walk will kick off North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week. The event is not only fun, it also helps spread the message that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. Steps for Life is the major fundraising event for Threads of Life, a national charitable organization dedicated to supporting families along their journey of healing who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering illness or occupational disease.

Our CCOHS team will once again be walking in the Hamilton event. Dates and times vary across the country. Find the walk closest to you and put your team together. It will be a day to remember.

Learn more about how you can participate on the Steps for Life website.

North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week May 5-11

With the theme of "Are you as safe as you think?", organizations all over North America are planning their activities for Safety and Health Week. It is a time in which attention turns to the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community. CCOHS will be presenting two webinars to help workplaces participate and help raise awareness of health and safety that will last beyond this special week. Stay tuned for further details.

More information

Learn more about the National Day of Mourning.

Download free Day of Mourning posters and order Day of Mourning pins.

Visit the Health and Safety (NAOSH) Week website and get inspired.

Learn more about Threads of Life.

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