Must-Knows in MMH: Pushing and Pulling Pitfalls and Solutions

posted on: Thursday August 8, 2013

Insurance premiums and worker’s compensation are two of the most costly elements in manual material handling. Many companies have experienced costs so steep that their businesses were devastated. State Compensation Insurance Fund’s website publishes “Ergomatters,” a series of articles pertaining to specific ergonomic factors that influence the likelihood of injury on the job. One of the most interesting categories in the history of work ergonomics is pushing and pulling.

Pushing and pulling is one of the most likely actions to cause work-related injuries, especially musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). However, it was not always so high on the list. While these activities have always existed, it wasn’t until substitutes for lifting and carrying were invented that pushing and pulling became the problem it is today. Primarily, the popular use of the cart is what started the issue.

Lifting and carrying are extremely hard on the body. Alternatives to these tasks are always desirable. With a cart replacing the act of carrying, the body is relieved of a lot of stress. However, when carts were introduced as ergonomics solutions to these issues, no one anticipated the problems that would result from pushing and pulling.

As it turned out, pushing and pulling caused more work-related injuries than lifting and carrying. Strains and sprains, tendonitis, bursitis, and herniated discs are all among the list of MSDs that people have incurred from pushing and pulling. While they may not be as extreme as some other injuries, they can still be costly career-enders.

Now that we know how pushing and pulling can hurt the body, we also know that there are many factors influencing the danger of the activity. Some of these are: weight of the load, height of where the force is applied, posture, direction of the force applied, and the slope and condition of the surface.

In an effort to make pushing and pulling safer, companies have taught proper body mechanics and purchased assistive devices to protect the back, wrists, and shoulders. While proper body mechanics are important in manual jobs, they cannot effectively prevent injury alone. Back braces and belts also cannot effectively prevent injury on their own. In fact, in some cases, employees are more likely to be injured wearing assistive devices because they don’t feel they need to pay attention to other safety protocols.

Another measure used to increase the safety of pushing and pulling is to add muscle to the project. Based on the weight of the object being moved, two to six employees can be recruited to move the object safely. There are still two problems with this, however. The first and most obvious is time wasted from having several employees stop what they’re doing to help push/pull one object. If this happens continually throughout the day, it can add up to a lot of time that could have been spent more productively. The other issue is how safely a group of people can move the object. Visibility is not likely very good for all the employees, and communication has to be very strong to ensure all movers are in sync.

Just as introducing pushing and pulling came with unexpected side effects, solving the new issues brought about surprises – in this case however, they were beneficial. The most effective way to safely get a cart moved is with a battery-operated power tugger. This simple, effective machine goes beyond the motorized cart. It is powerful enough to move up to 50,000 pounds without the operator experiencing any strain. Only one person is needed to operate the tug, and no special training or certification is necessary to use it. Besides being an ergonomic Godsend, the power tuggers actually improve productivity. By linking carts together like cars on a train, exponentially more product can be moved in one trip. The tug is equipped with safety features and maneuvers easily around tight, awkward corners. Applications for the tugger go beyond moving carts. Some unique applications include moving hanging slabs of meat and giant kilns. With their ergonomic design, the tug does not pose any new, unforeseen risks – just efficient, productive labor.

Pushing and pulling is a part of many jobs, especially in manual material handling. To ensure it doesn’t create medical issues for employees and economic issues for employers, facility managers need to be careful about how work tasks are performed. When pushing and pulling can’t be eliminated, equipment like power tuggers are excellent preventative and productive solutions.

For more information on power tuggers or how Load Movers can make your facility more productive and injury-free, email or call 952-767-1720.