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Frequently Asked Questions about Preventing Sprains and Strains

  • Lifting Limits:

    Expand or collapse. Are there any regulations that limit how much weight a person can lift at work?

    There are no L&I rules that specify weight limits for lifting. However, employers have to provide their employees a workplace free of hazards (3.01 MB PDF). Heavy lifting is an obvious hazard. Its the leading cause of serious workplace injuries.

    We suggest that you evaluate lifting tasks using the lifting calculator app (osha.oregon.gov). You can use the results to set reasonable limits for lifting. When the lift is heavier than the recommended limit, its time to search for solutions.

  • Safe-Lifting Training:

    Expand or collapse. Weve had a few back injuries from lifting on the job. Do you have any safe lifting training materials that can help?

    L&I doesnt offer safe lifting or body mechanics training for a very simple reason: Its not an effective way to prevent injuries. Safe lifting training has been around for decades yet lifting is still the leading cause of serious workplace injuries.

    Almost everyone knows the standard advice — bend your knees and lift with your legs, not with your back. This advice assumes youre lifting from the floor. No matter what posture you use, lifting from the floor is very stressful to your spine and puts you at risk for injury.

    We suggest that you evaluate lifting tasks using the lifting calculator app (osha.oregon.gov). When the lift is heavier than the recommended limit, its time to search for solutions.

    After creating a workplace that makes it easier to lift safely, then train your employees to use good lifting techniques, including the use of equipment when appropriate.

  • Back Belts:

    Expand or collapse. I lift a lot of large and heavy stuff at work. Dont they have to provide me with a back belt to keep me safe?

    Theres no solid evidence that show back belts to be effective in preventing back injuries or back pain according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (www.cdc.gov). Heavy and awkward lifting can lead to back injuries.

    We suggest that you evaluate lifting tasks using the lifting calculator app (osha.oregon.gov). When the lift is heavier than the recommended limit, its time to search for solutions.

  • Pushing and Pulling Heavy Loads:

    Expand or collapse. Whats a safe amount of weight to move on a cart or pallet jack?

    Pushing and pulling heavy loads can cause injuries, so its good to know how much is too much. The amount of effort it takes to move a cart or pallet depends on many things, not just the weight of the load. For example, the type and size of the wheels, floor surface, ramps, and obstacles can all change the amount of force needed.

    Instead of guessing, its best to measure the force required. You can use an analog spring scale, such as a fish or luggage scale. Take several measurements under typical conditions, and compare them to the recommended limits from this online calculator (www.worksafebc.com). You will need to enter the distance moved, frequency of the move, and the height of the hands when pulling or pushing. If the measured force is greater than the recommended limit, look for ways to reduce the force requirement. Some ways to do that might be to try larger diameter wheels, lighten the load weight, ensure the floor is flat and clean, or use powered pallet jacks, tugs, or forklifts to move the load.

  • Push or Pull:

    Expand or collapse. Which one is safer - pushing or pulling?

    Most of the time, pushing is the safer option. You can use larger muscles and your body weight more effectively. As long as you can see over what youre moving, youll be able to look where youre going without having to twist. And if you slip or trip, youre more likely to be able to hold yourself up by grabbing onto what youre moving.

  • Standing on Hard Floors:

    Expand or collapse. My employer took all of our chairs away, and now we have to stand all day on hard floors. Shouldnt they have to give me a chair, or at least a mat to stand on?

    L&I doesnt have a rule that requires employers to provide chairs or mats to standing workers. There is a Washington state law that requires employers to provide chairs or the opportunity to sit more often as an accommodation for pregnant employees (www.atg.wa.gov). Its a bad idea to require any employee to stand in one place without being able to sit down or walk around. Long periods of standing still can lead to a number of health issues such as sore feet and legs, swollen ankles, varicose veins, low back soreness, and fatigue.

    Some people think that sitting at work will reduce productivity. In reality, fatigue and discomfort from standing all day long is much more likely to hurt work performance.

    The best solution for standing fatigue is to give people the opportunity to sit down for at least part of the day. Moving your legs muscles, such as by walking around, is very important if you have to stand for long periods of time.

    Anti-fatigue mats can help some, but not just any mat will do. A good mat will be:

    • Thick enough, but not so thick that you sink in and have trouble moving your feet; about a half-inch thick seems to work well.
    • Soft enough to have some give to it, but not so soft that it bottoms out when you stand on it.
    • With beveled edges to prevent tripping hazards.
    • Large enough to cover the work area so that people dont frequently step on and off it.

    You could try good quality shoe insoles instead of anti-fatigue mats. There wouldnt be a risk of tripping over mats using insoles.

  • Sit-Stand Desks:

    Expand or collapse. We want to start standing part of the time in our office. Weve looked at sit-stand adjustable desks, but the electric ones are pretty expensive. They make some adjustable devices that sit on top of our existing desks, and they cost less. Are those a good option?

    Add-on devices sit on top of existing desks. Add-on devices can work well, but you need to look carefully at the workstation, requirements of the work, and the way the person works. Make sure you get a device that works well for the user. They can seem like quick and less expensive solutions but they have some limitations:

    • For some people the desk height is too tall. Only some of these devices allow the keyboard and mouse to be set below the level of the desk. It isnt very comfortable to sit at a workstation when the keyboard and mouse are too high.
    • Other add-on devices allow the keyboard height to adjust below desk level but often the keyboard sticks out in front of the desk. This increases your reach to the telephone, paperwork, or anything else on your desk.
    • For the most part, only the heights for the keyboard, mouse, and monitor can be adjusted for sitting or standing positions. If you need to access other things from your desk to do your work, those things dont travel with you when you stand up.
    • Where on the workstation will the device be placed? Weve found that many dont work well as corner workstations.
    • Is the workstation wide and deep enough to fit the device?
    • How much weight can the device support? If the computer equipment is too heavy, the device can become very difficult to adjust.

    An electric-adjustable table is often a better option than add-on devices. Since the whole work surface moves, everything that employees work with will move up and down with them, at a push of a button. Since sit-stand desks have become popular, the prices have been coming down. If you want to save money, you can buy just the electric base and add your existing work surface to it. In this way, it costs just a little more than some of the add-on devices, without some of the downsides.

  • Chairs

    Expand or collapse. One of my employees wants a new chair. I was going to send her down to the big box store to pick something out. Are there any types of chairs that you would recommend?

    The big box stores can offer convenience and good prices, but offer fewer options for higher-end chairs. The inexpensive chairs may look nice and seem well-padded and comfortable, at first. You can adjust the seat up-and-down, but usually cant adjust them in any other way. If it doesnt happen to fit you well, theres not much you can do about it.

    Durability of these chairs is also a concern. Less expensive chairs usually have short warranty periods. A lot of these chairs are designed for a home office, where someone might sit in them for a couple of hours per day. Thats a different need than a common work scenario, with someone sitting 8+ hours per day, for 5 days per week.

    Think about chairs the way a runner thinks about sneakers. A serious runner isnt going to buy a cheap pair of sneakers, because she knows that could cause discomfort or even injury. Shes going to spend a little more on good, supportive running shoes designed to go the distance. If your employee spends a lot of time in her chair, its just as important to have something thats supportive and durable.

    Its worth it to ask around and find a furniture vendor that offers a variety of chairs. You might find one near you that will allow you to try before buying a chair. Employees can try them out for a period of time, to find the one that works for them.

  • Stretching programs:

    Expand or collapse. Weve been having some sprain and strain injuries lately in some of our more physical jobs. Would a stretch and flex program help?

    Some organizations have seen benefits from workplace stretch and flex programs. But there isnt enough evidence showing that these programs prevent workplace muscle and joint injuries. A better use of your time and resources is to look at the physical demands of the work and to reduce demands that contribute to the injuries.

    If you decide to use a stretch and flex program, exercises to warm up the muscles are likely to be more effective than static stretching. Youll get better results from your stretch and flex program if its designed for the type of work that your employees do. Programs designed by a therapist, exercise physiologist, or similar specialist will be safer for employees. If you do exercises improperly theres always a risk that you could harm yourself.

  • Doctors note required?:

    Expand or collapse. Weve been getting a lot requests for ergonomic equipment lately, and were thinking about requiring employees to have a doctors note before we buy anything. Is that something you would recommend?

    We dont think requiring a doctors note to get equipment is a good idea. For equipment thats intended to relieve discomfort or reduce injury risk, its best to go ahead and purchase it as long as its affordable and seems likely to make a difference. Of course, if an employee experiences serious symptoms, its appropriate that he or she go to a medical professional for treatment.

  • L&I Services:

    Expand or collapse. Does L&I offer services to help me prevent sprains and strains in my workplace?

    Yes, L&I offers help at no cost to any employer in Washington state. We can answer questions, or visit your worksite to look at jobs and work with you to find solutions. To ask a question or learn more about our services, you can e-mail us at Ergonomics@Lni.wa.gov. You can also learn about the safety and health consultation services that L&I offers.

More help from L&I


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