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Safety Zone Using Natural Limits To Protect Your Back

Prevent Back Injuries

Work Within Your Natural Limits Did you know most ants can lift objects that are many times heavier than their bodies? Your own body isn’t designed to lift that kind of heavy weight. If you tried to lift something as heavy as a refrigerator, for example, you’d probably injure yourself. Some objects are simply too heavy or bulky to be lifted by one person. Other objects may be light enough to lift. But if they are lifted too often over time, cumulative (gradual) damage can develop. Lifting, moving, and lowering loads in ways your body wasn’t meant to can lead to a painful back injury. By understanding more about your safety zone (the limits within which your body was built to move safely), you can protect your back. You can also reduce your risk of injury by stretching and strengthening your muscles. Follow this booklet’s guidelines at work and any time you lift or move objects.

This booklet is not intended to replace professional healthcare or your employer’s health and safety policies. Only your employer can establish the specific guidelines appropriate for your job. ©2008 The StayWell Company, 1100 Grundy Lane, San Bruno, CA 94066-3030. 800-333-3032. All rights reserved. Lithographed in Canada.


How Back Injuries Can Happen Your back supports the weight of your whole upper body. When you lift or move loads, your back carries even more weight. If you don’t work within your body’s natural limits, your back can’t safely support both your body and the load. The tension created by this extra weight ends up on your lower back. That’s how back injuries can happen. If you lift or move loads often, a back injury may develop slowly, over time.

How You Can Protect Your Back By using some of the strongest muscles in your body—those in your legs and arms—you can lift and move loads safely and take much of the pressure off your back. Tightening your stomach muscles also helps support your back. When these muscles share the job of supporting loads, you’re in the best position to protect your back from injury. You’re also less likely to be injured if you keep loads close to your body and your spine balanced. Your spine is balanced if you maintain its natural curves as you move. And be sure to keep your head up as you lift objects.


Reach Out Within Limits

Find Your Safety Zone Think of your safety zone as a three-way traffic light. Go ahead and move a load safely in the green areas of the zone because the load is close to your body, putting little tension on your back. The risk of injury increases outside the green areas. Be cautious when moving in the yellow area: The load is farther away from your body and puts greater tension on your back. Stop if you’re in the red danger zone: You could be setting yourself up for a back injury.



The dark green area is closest to your body and safest for your back. It’s formed by holding both forearms against your body at waist level and moving your fists up and down in front of your stomach.

The light green area is a little farther away from your body. It’s formed by keeping your elbows in at your sides and moving your fists up to your shoulders, then down to your thighs.

The tension in your back is lowest when you hold a load in this area. The weight may feel like feathers. 4

The tension in your back is slightly greater, but still safe. The weight may feel like small pieces of wood.


Danger Zone

The yellow area is even farther away from your body. This area is formed by putting your arms straight forward at shoulder height, then bringing your fists down to your thighs.

The red area is located outside your safety zone. When you work there, you hold the load away from you. Your back can’t safely support the weight.

The tension in your back is even greater. The weight may feel like a bag of cement. Be careful: You’ve reached your body’s natural limits.

The tension in your back is greater still. The weight may feel like a ton of bricks. You’ve gone beyond your body’s natural limits.

Environmental Limits Take a moment to think about your work environment. Do you work in a hot, humid area? Or is your work area cold or damp? Depending on the work environment, you may need to take extra steps to lift loads safely. For instance, you may need to slow down and lift less often. Or you may need to use special equipment when you work. Be sure to follow any workplace rules to help you stay safe. 5

Make The Right Moves

Use Your Safety Zone When you lift, carry, turn, or reach in your safety zone, you’re protecting your back. Get as close to a load as you can before moving it. Test loads you aren’t sure of by lifting a corner. If a load is too heavy or awkward, have a co-worker help, or use equipment. The hints and tips on these pages give you some more ways to help your back.


Tips Lifting Hints • Keep your legs apart for good balance. • Bend your knees and hips, not your waist, to help you stay within your natural limits. • Keep your back balanced, with your ears, shoulders, and hips lined up, so your upper body is well supported. • Tighten your stomach muscles and hug the load in your green zone to support your back. • Lift, using your leg and arm muscles to minimize the force of the load on your back. Don’t twist your back. • Don’t jerk as you lift: Too sudden a movement can easily injure your back.

Stretching To keep your lower back flexible, do a Backbend. 1 Stand or sit and place your palms on your low back. Lean your upper body back, without overarching your neck. 2 Hold for a count of 5. Repeat 3 times.


Carrying hints • Know where you’re going, so you don’t have to carry the load while looking for a place to put it. • Make sure you have a clear path, so you carry the load the shortest distance. • Hold the load close to keep it in your green zone. • Use a dolly or cart to carry a heavy or awkward load, or one that blocks your vision.

To help you build strong leg muscles, try the Wall Slide. 1 Stand with your back against a wall and your feet apart. Slide into a half-sitting position. 2 Hold for a count of 10, then slide back up. Repeat 3 times.


Make The Right Moves

Use Your Safety Zone These pages contain more hints for using your safety zone to protect your back. Remember, stretching and strengthening your back may also help prevent injury. The tips at right give examples.


Tips Turning Hints • Tighten your stomach muscles before you lift to support your back; keep your back supported as you turn. • Keep the load in front of you—where your safety zone is. • Step in the direction of the turn, rather than twist, so you don’t leave your safety zone behind. • Don’t turn without moving your feet: You’ll twist your back, moving out of your safety zone.

Stretching Try the Hip Stretch. 1 With your right hand, reach over the top of your head to touch your left ear. 2 With your left hand on your left hip and feet shoulder-width apart, bend your body sideways to your left. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times. 3 Switch and do the other side.

Reaching Hints • Set up your work area for reaches you do often, so you can stay out of the danger zone. • Use sturdy equipment (like a stepladder) to get closer to the load. • Slide the load to the edge, in toward your body, and down to waist level; then change your grip so you can bring the load into your safety zone. • When you use a dolly or other equipment, remember not to reach outside your safety zone. • Don’t reach into the danger zone: Move things closer to you or move yourself closer to them.

Strengthening Try the Pelvic Tilt to strengthen your stomach muscles. 1 Stand or sit and tighten your stomach muscles as you curl your buttocks forward. Hold for a count of 5. 2 Repeat 2 to 3 times.


Know Your Limits

Match The Zones

Study the people at the right. Which ones are working in their safety zones? Which are “out of bounds� in the danger zone? Write the number of each person in the matching dark green (safest), light green (safe), yellow (caution), or red (danger) zone. You can find the answers printed upside down below the people.


Answers: dark green (4, 8, 10); light green (3, 5, 9); yellow (1, 7, 11); red (2, 6, 12)














Always Remember

Go With The Green When lifting and moving loads, the green areas of your safety zone are a “go.” By keeping this simple rule in mind, you’re more likely to avoid painful back injuries and time off from work. Practice safe work habits on the job and at home. This will help keep your back healthy for all the activities you enjoy.

Resources National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 800-356-4674 Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 202-693-1999

Consultants: David A. Thompson, PhD, Ergonomics Engineer Brian S. Miller, Safety Manager With contributions by: John MacVittie, Safety and Training Manager Tim Racicot, Industrial Safety and Hygiene Manager Michael Baetz, Senior Safety Engineer


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Every job that consists of occupational hazards requires a safety handbook. My assignment was to design one that was engaging, sophisticated...

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