"Heave-ho" To Heavy Lifting
Material handling safety is a matter of taking calculated manual lifting risks, enlisting the help of an array of safety equipmentor simply losing productivity.
by Susan Friedman
Sure, press downtime is a major thorn in productivity's side, but how far will any print job progress if key workers are absenthome nursing back injuries caused by heavy lifting?
Material handling safety's effect on operation efficiencies and profits could be comparable to the impact of digital prepress or streamlined makeready. A plethora of medical and insurance data shows why.
According to the Ergonomics Assist Systems Equipment (E.A.S.E.) Council of Material Handling Industry, back disorders are most costly in terms of workers' compensation and lost time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates manual materials handling injuries represent 35 percent of workers' compensation claims. Medical expenses, lost wages, lower productivity and other expenses from these injuries amount to $116 billion annually.
In 1996, BLS reported more than 490,000 occupational back injuries involving days away from work, with a median of six workdays missed. Printing press operators racked up 1,524 back injuries that caused lost time, while the printing and publishing industry as a whole recorded back injuries requiring time off for 44.6 full-time workers per every 10,000.
A heightened watchdog mentality adds to the immediacy of material handling issues. E.A.S.E. warns that OSHA has recently cited ergonomic violations as "willful," under the Workplace Safety Act.
Employers must be taking these statistics seriously, because according to Barbara Webster, a researcher at Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health, the frequency of material handling injuries has stabilized in recent years. Several soon-to-be released studies actually show a decline in claims for back injuries, she notes. One contributor to this trend could be Early-Return-to-Work programs, which aim to curtail the average duration of disability.
If a worker decides to, or has no choice but to manually lift a heavy object, Webster offers the following injury-prevention pointers: