Eliminate Five Leading Causes of Material Handling Injuries with Training

Eliminate Five Leading Causes of Material Handling Injuries with Training

Training should teach employees how to avoid the most common material handling injuries. 

Much of a new material handling an employee’s training tends to focus around how to safely operate a forklift or powered industrial truck.  Recognizing safe clearances, navigating turns, avoiding pedestrians and securing loads are all learned skills that help operators to maneuver mechanical devices safely. However, training should also teach them how to avoid the most common material handling injuries. Material handling incidents are the most frequent cause of workplace injuries, according to The Travelers Companies. Increasing awareness through training can help prevent incidents, reduce reportable injuries and promote safer working conditions.

Sprains and Strains

It is no secret that sprains and strains are the most common types of worktime injuries. Material handlers in manufacturing and retail settings experienced nearly 40 percent of the 295,180 reported sprain and strain injuries in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even when carts, conveyors, dollies, cranes and other mechanical aids are available, material handlers who are not properly trained still use inappropriate lifting methods and move items that are too bulky, heavy or awkward for one person to lift. Back injuries are the most common type of sprain or strain. More than 111,000  back injuries occur each year with an average recovery time of 57 days per injury, according to the National Safety Council.

Provide  appropriate ergonomic training that focuses on proper lifting techniques for the types of materials that they will be handling, including lifting over the shoulders, placing objects below knee level and handling oversized loads. Incorporating daily warmup or stretching programs before each shift can also help to minimize sprain and strain injuries.

Slips, Trips and  Falls

Packing materials, strapping, debris, uneven floor surfaces and spilled liquids all contribute to slips, trips and falls to the same level. In addition to sprains and strains, slips, trips and falls can also cause bruises, cuts,  muscle tears  and fractures.

Some issues, such as uneven floor surfaces may require maintenance or construction work to repair and eliminate a floor safety hazard. However, most slip, trip and fall injuries in material handling areas can be eliminated by implementing good housekeeping procedures.

Good housekeeping training may include policies for keeping aisles clear, ensuring that boxes, bins and containers are fully in racking systems, sweeping work areas, cleaning up spills immediately and placing spent packing materials in trash cans or recycling bins. Providing all  necessary tools to perform good housekeeping tasks and making them readily available in work areas helps to reinforce  this  training.

Cuts and  Punctures

Almost 200 material handlers experience reportable cut injuries every day. That number does not include cuts that only require on-site first aid. Removing strapping from baled items, cutting through tape to open boxes and snipping rope or wire are likely to be necessary functions that cannot be eliminated from job tasks. Substituting cutting tools with retractable blades and providing cut-resistant gloves can help to reduce these injuries.

Most punctures among material handlers can be attributed to using staple or nail guns, removing staples and grazing loose wood splinters on skids and crate. Like cuts, the 17,620 reported punctures each year does not include punctures that only require on-site first aid.

When tools are familiar, it can be easy to overlook training on how to use them properly. However, there are dozens of ways to incorrectly use cutting tools and securing devices. Even tape guns and handheld paper staplers can cause cut and puncture injuries.

Employees who will operate forklifts need to demonstrate safe driving skills. There must be training for material handlers on how to use the cutting and security tools  that they will be using every day correcting and requiring them to demonstrate proper usage.

Inflammation  and Fractures

Forklifts overturning cause about 24 percent of injuries to material handlers, often resulting in fractures and muscle inflammation. Colliding with objects, being caught between objects and getting caught in moving parts such as  conveyor belts make up much of the balance of the 85,710 inflammation and fracture injuries material handlers experienced in 2019.

The injuries typically cause workers to miss 78-91 days from work while recovering. Clearly, training that only includes someone screaming, “Pay Attention!” or “Slow Down!” is not going to be enough to prevent these injuries and the lost work time.

Identifying hazardous locations and training employees to recognize how they can be injured in those areas is more effective. Posting signs also serves as a reminder to maintain awareness in each area.

Temperature Extremes

Failing to account for temperature extremes in material handling settings contributes to almost 17,000 exposure injuries and illnesses annually. Even though a majority of material handling operations occur indoors, many material handling areas are not climate controlled.

Hot temperatures and humidity cause exhaustion more quickly than moderate temperatures do.This can lead to poor decision making and a greater likelihood of muscle injuries. It also makes workers more susceptible to heat illnesses such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Cold temperatures decrease flexibility. Stiffness in muscles can decrease coordination and increase the likelihood of muscle and joint injuries. The risk of cold injuries, such as hypothermia and frostbite also increase.

Whether working in hot or cold conditions, training that includes proper hydration and nutrition as well as dressing in layers aids in reducing injuries, enforcing rest breaks and providing either warm or cool rest areas can also benefit employees and reduce risk.

Keep Trainings Short

There is a great likelihood that training which includes memorizing charts and diagrams of the human muscular system will not be well received. It would also be unnecessary because being able to label all of the muscles and ligaments in a body part is not essential to performing material handling job tasks correctly and safely.

Long trainings and those that cover too many topics at one time are also much more prone to failure. Breaking trainings into short discussions that can be completed in work areas in less than five minutes is more effective.

Unlike OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck standard that outlines specific training topics for operators, there is not a specific standard that outlines training requirements for some of the common hazards that material handlers face. Employers who recognize hazards in material handling areas and proactively train their employees can prevent these all-too-common injuries.


This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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