Stay Safe by Improving Your Material Handling Techniques

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMDs) are a leading cause of pain and suffering in the United States.  These injuries are often the result of poor material handling techniques and can prove costly for employers in any industry.

Those in the electrical trade often find themselves pulling, pushing, lifting, and transporting electrical supplies and equipment across a jobsite, exposing themselves to risk factors associated with these injuries.  In order to stay safe on the job and maintain productivity, electrical workers will need to focus on improving their material handling techniques.

Proper Material Handling Techniques

With increasing pressure to get more done in less time, contractors might try to perform tasks quickly and without proper technique.  This can result in both a poor job performance and a greater chance of injury.  By following proper manual material handling techniques, workers can improve their efficiency and stay safe on the job.

Basic Lifting Technique

Back injuries make up the majority of WRMDs and are usually a result of using a poor lifting technique.  Here is how to safely lift materials:

  1. Stand as close to the object as possible. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  2. Keep your back straight as you squat down and bend at the knees rather than your waist. Slide the object as close to you as you can.
  3. Put your hands on opposite corners of the load and get a firm grip before you lift.
  4. Keep your back straight and look forward as you slowly begin to lift.
  5. Keep your legs straight and breathe out as you lift. The object should be as close to you as possible during the entire lift.
  6. When setting the lift down, keep your back straight, your head up, and allow your legs to do all the work as you squat down.

This is a basic diagonal lifting technique.  During this lift, make sure that you avoid the following mistakes:

  • Holding your breath during the lift.
  • Bending or twisting at your waist.
  • Not having a firm grip before lifting.
  • Lifting too quickly or making a sudden turn.
  • Lifting a load that is more than you can handle safely.
  • Not wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) when needed.

Pushing and Pulling

Pushing is usually preferred to pulling, as it allows the worker to use large muscle groups that are better able to handle a heavy load.  When pushing a load, workers should keep their elbows in close to the sides of their body and use their leg muscles rather than their arms to push a load.  Vertical handles on carts and other material handling equipment can help workers provide a safer and more powerful push.

Carrying Materials

It is always preferable to transport materials using transport devices, but this is not always an option.  When carrying materials, workers should be aware of their surroundings and make sure that the path is cleared before transporting materials.  If possible, materials should be broken down into lighter loads for easier handling.

Other Material Handling Tips

There are additional ways that employers and employees can reduce the risk of injuries caused by material handling.  Follow these practices to reduce the chance of WRMDs:

Plan where materials should be stored BEFORE delivery:  Before you put in an order from your electrical distribution supplier, have a place for the materials to be safely stored that will reduce any unnecessary material handling.

Do regular muscle exercises:  Improving core strength and exercising your muscles will not only be beneficial for existing injuries, but also help you avoid new strains and sprains as you handle materials.

Use material handling equipment:  Taking the manual aspect out of material handling can greatly reduce the risk of injury.  Material handling equipment such as forklifts and carts should also be handled with care for maximum benefit.

Know your rights:  Both employer and employee should be aware of their responsibilities.  Employers must inform their employees about potential hazards through extensive training and improving workplace ergonomics.  If employees feel that the workplace is not safe, they can contact OSHA to request a safety inspection.


Material handling is a necessary part of a contractor’s duties, and it is critical that the proper techniques are used in order to limit the chance of developing costly injuries.  By taking care to handle materials with the correct techniques, workers can stay safe and maintain their efficiency in the workplace.