Lifting Safely in the Workplace

30th Jun 2022

Avoid turning or twisting your body while lifting or holding a heavy object.

What is meant by “lifting and twisting”?

Have you ever picked up something heavy and turned without moving your feet? This can happen when lifting and offloading a gravel or snow-filled shovel for example. This sort of heavy lift, combined with an awkward body movement of twisting or turning your back, can cause traumatic injuries to muscles and joints (More inclusively called “musculoskeletal injuries”, which includes injuries to muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs, including a sprain, strain and inflammation). These injuries can be very painful, long-lasting and debilitating. 

During 2021, in Nunavut and the NWT, over 70% of lifting injuries were caused by a sudden reaction or twisting by the worker while lifting or holding a heavy object, combined with muscle overuse. 

Who is most at risk? 

Any worker can be vulnerable to a lifting and twisting injury, but occupations more often affected are construction trades helpers and labourers, facility operation and maintenance managers, janitors and caretakers, retail salespeople, and some nursing professions. Some of these occupations require workers to handle the lifting and moving of objects or people manually. A few examples of when a worker may be vulnerable to a lift and twist injury, are:

  • Shovelling snow or gravel by scooping it up (lift) and turning to dump it on the side (twist).
  • Lifting heavy items off a cart (lift) and then placing them on a shelf without moving your feet (twist).
  • Manually moving (lifting and twisting) a snowmobile or qamutik that is stuck in deep snow.
  • Passing cases of soda pop (lift) from person to person (twist) while unloading merchandise from a sea lift.

Workers over the age of 25 are usually more vulnerable. As we age, our muscles shrink and lose mass, and our bodies replace muscle tissue more slowly. The new tissue that forms is tougher and more fibrous. The rate of muscle decline varies among workers, so don’t assume someone is not able because of their age. Ultimately each worker needs to adjust how they work to match their abilities.

Manual handling of materials

Here are some things you should consider and tips to reduce your chances of a lift and twist injury.

Factors to consider

  • The weight of the load (Is it heavy or light?).
  • Its distance from your body (How close or how far?).
  • Its size and its shape (Is it easy to grip or will you need help?).
  • The distance to carry (Should you use a lifting or other mechanical device?).
  • The length of time it will take to carry the load (Will it take a short time or a long time?).
  • How many lifts are there to do (Are there only a few or many?).
  • At what pace will the lifts be done (The speed at which lifting will happen).

Specific tips to prevent twisting when lifting

  • Keep your back straight, and your shoulders in line with your hips.
  • Carry the object close to your body.
  • Turn your body by pivoting your foot.
  • When you turn, lead with your hips.
  • Take small steps.

General tips before lifting

  • Warm-up those muscles! This is especially important when working in the cold because as muscles lose heat they contract causing tightness throughout the body. Tight muscles will increase your risk of injury.
  • Ensure that your pathway is clear and allows for full movement.

What should employers and supervisors have in place for manual handling of materials?

  • Provide workers with suitable equipment for handling heavy or awkward loads. 
  • Allow for reasonable adjustments to reduce the weight of the load so that it is easier to lift.
  • Ensure that a worker does not take on manual lifting, holding, or moving of a load that is too heavy, too big, or too awkward to maneuver.  
  • Provide training for proper procedures in the safe lifting, holding, and transporting of heavy loads. 

If you would like more support, reach out to a Safety Officer today in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.


Workers who manually handle materials should know the proper lifting techniques to protect themselves from a potential back injury. Talk with your supervisor or coworkers about how you can develop or improve a back-injury prevention plan. We recommend you review our previous Safety Spotlight on Back Injury, which lists the Top 6 Back Injury Prevention Strategies. The page has additional resources too!

CCOHS Resources:

  • Manual Materials Handling – Details for close to 20 topics related to manual material handling, for topics such as how to lift drums and barrels, hoisting and moving a heavy object such as a refrigerator, and layout suggestions for storing supplies (CCOHS).
  • Manual Materials Handling – Poster with tips on how to lift safely in the workplace (CCOHS).
  • Shovelling Snow – Practical information about snow shovelling, with attention to using the correct shovel for snow (CCOHS).
  • Client Lifting Fast Facts Card – For health care providers, this card gives safety tips for safe transferring of patients (CCOHS).
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders – Infographic (CCOHS).