Employees in physically demanding jobs in most industrialized countries work 46.4 hours per week on average. For the fortunate (if we can call it so), this means sitting for hours on end inside a vehicle or piece of machinery, whereas for others, it means heavy lifting and prolonged standing. Even if you're not on your feet all day, you probably expend a lot of energy just getting through the day, and you still put in a lot of physical labor.
Good posture is critical for avoiding these injuries and increasing your productivity on the job. That is why companies assign safety officers to oversee manual handling training. Such drills may be tedious for recruits, but they ensure the safety and health of all employees. It is also the most efficient way for businesses to meet OSHA, insurance, and other industry regulations.
We'll look at some of these OSHA regulations today. We'll also include some personal suggestions to help you feel more at ease while performing routine tasks in physically demanding jobs.
What Are the Regulations on Physically Demanding Jobs?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 set out clear labor laws for companies operating in the US. It gives employers the following general responsibilities:
- OSHA laws make it illegal for employees to expose themselves to physical health risks.
- The employer has to identify occupational health and safety risks.
- Your company must also modify your work environment through ergonomic aids and other measures that eliminate such risks.
The framework is a little vague and difficult to apply; for instance, there are no specifications on lifting and weight limits. The stipulations are mere guidelines that even the labor department can’t enforce at times.
Even in the presence of such workplace initiatives, it is prudent to know how to protect yourself. Let's take a look at this in the following section.
6 Body Postures for Dealing with Physically Demanding Jobs
On-the-job manual handling training covers the broad strokes of occupational stress and injury prevention. However, if your job requires lifting and carrying loads, you may need to do more. We'll give you some pointers here.
Get the Right Chair
If you're sitting in a chair that doesn't provide adequate support for your back, neck, and shoulders, you're putting yourself at risk for a number of health problems. Chief among these are repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), which can cause numbness, pain, and other carpal tunnel symptoms. In addition to causing discomfort, RSIs can also lead to reduced productivity and increased absenteeism from work.
So what's the Solution? The best way to avoid these problems is to invest in an ergonomic office chair that provides adequate support for your back, neck, and shoulders. These chairs are designed to reduce the risk of RSIs and other health problems, and they can also improve your comfort level while you're working. In addition, ergonomic chairs are also generally more comfortable than traditional office chairs, which means you'll be more likely to stay focused and productive while you're working.
Insist on Proper Footwear
Your spine maintains a neutral ‘S’ curve at all times. This shape allows these few hollow bones to hold all your upper body weight. It also cushions your muscles from the stress that leads to chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain.
Sure, heeled shoes are stylish. But, they are impractical for physically demanding jobs that have you on your feet for hours. For one, such shoes undo your natural body posture.
This forces your body to re-distribute all weight from significant muscle groups. Meaning your minor muscles inherit all the work and stress. You can avoid all this by wearing sensible, breathable, and low-healed shoes. While at it, throw something steel-toed to protect you from falling objects.
Plan Every Lift
Ensure there are no obstacles on your path before attempting to lift a light object. Next, ensure you have a steady grip. This ensures the object won’t shift or make sudden movements as you shift it to another location.
Heavier objects need firmer grip and planning. You can start by lifting and placing them on a table or workbench. Then it’s possible to keep your back straight, so less weight goes on your knees. If the object is too heavy, you can use a trolley or wheeled platform to carry the weight. That way, you can pull your load instead of carrying it on your back and shoulders.
Focus on Your Breathing
Maintaining proper posture requires strong and well-aerated core muscles. Taking deep and intentional breaths to add loads of oxygen to your muscles and holding in your gut as you hoist heavy things off the floor is a great way to ensure this. Taking deep, deliberate breaths provides an abundance of oxygen to your muscles. This helps to engage all of your midsection muscles, ensuring they are strong and capable of supporting your spine.
Work On Your Leg, Feet, and General Body Positioning
Most of us don't think twice about how we position our feet when standing or walking, but the reality is that poor foot and leg positioning can lead to a host of problems, including joint pain, tendonitis, and even injuries- especially if your job involves prolonged standing or heavy lifting. That's because our feet are designed to bear weight in a specific way, and when we place them in an unnatural position, it puts unnecessary strain on our joints and muscles. To avoid these issues:
When Standing For Long Periods
- Make sure your feet are firmly on the ground and about shoulder-width apart. This will help you spread your weight evenly, giving you a strong base of support and helping you stay balanced.
- Keep your knees slightly bent, and do not lock them.
- Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead. Turning your feet outwards or inwards puts unnecessary strain on your ankles and knees.
- Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on both feet. This will help to even out the load and prevent fatigue.
- Avoid crossing your legs or standing on one leg for extended periods of time; this puts uneven pressure on your joints and muscles and can lead to pain over time. It also makes you less stable.
- Try to keep your hips and shoulders squared off with your feet.
When Lifting Something Heavy
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and planted firmly on the ground with one foot slightly in front of the other. This will help to distribute the weight evenly and give you a good base of support.
- Bend at the knees and hips, not the waist. Keep your back straight as you lower yourself to lift the object.
- Use your leg muscles (especially your quadriceps and hamstrings), not your back, to lift the load. Slowly straighten your legs as you raise the load.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine.
- Don’t stoop too much or bend more than you need to while lifting and carrying objects.
- Warm up before lifting by doing some gentle stretches
Finally, if you start to feel pain or discomfort in your legs or feet, take a break and sit down for a few minutes. It's important to listen to your body and give yourself a rest when needed.
Keep a Firm Grip on Things.
Lifting a heavy load is not easy. It takes strength, stamina, and, most importantly, a firm grip. If your grip is too weak, you may drop the load, injuring yourself or damaging the object.
Here's an overview of how to keep a proper grip while lifting.
- Make sure that your hands are dry and free of any debris
- Get a good grip on the load by using both hands, if possible. If you have to use one hand, make sure to place it in the center of the object and ensure that your fingers are spread out evenly and that you're gripping the load as securely as possible.
- Keep your arms close to your body.
- Keep your wrist straight and avoid jerking or twisting motions, as this could cause the load to shift and become unbalanced.
- If you are lifting a rectangular object, be sure to place your hands at opposite corners. For a round object, place your hands on opposite sides.
- You may also want to consider using gloves to help improve your grip. Gloves can provide additional traction and help to absorb some of the shock from lifting heavy objects.
Finally, make sure you have a good grip before you start lifting. Once you start moving the load, it will be much harder to adjust your grip.
Manual handling mistakes account for over 40% of workplace incidents and accident reports. Therefore, every company needs to be practical and actively engaged in its workforce’s welfare. You also need to be proactive, and the next time you're feeling slouched over at your workstation, remember that good posture could mean the difference between a long and successful career in a physically demanding industry and an early retirement.