Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations do not limit the amount of weight a worker can lift. But they do require employers to provide workers with a workplace free of "recognized hazards.” The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has defined a mathematical formula to determine the level of hazard associated with lifting heavy weights.
OSHA Weight Guidelines
Many jobs require workers to lift heavy weights, so employers often look for a definitive answer to the question of how much weight a worker can legally be required to lift.
The answer is neither clear nor definitive. According the OSHA General Duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupations Safety and Health Act, the employer cannot ask the employee to lift any amount that would be a “recognized hazard.”
OSHA turns to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to define how much weight constitutes a hazard. NIOSH bases its determination on a number of factors that contribute to back injuries. They include the repetitiveness of the lifting; the distance from the load to the spine; the weight, size and stability of the load lifted; and the footing at the worksite.
OSHA recommends that employers ask employees for an opinion about their lifting tasks and any back problems they have. In many cases, lumbar support is also required.
Workplace modifications can also reduce back injuries. Rotating employees and providing breaks every hour are two practices that reduce back stress and pain. Configuring the workplace so workers can help one another with heavy lifts also reduces back injuries.
Work methods should place the weight being lifted as close to the body of the person lifting as possible. Heavy objects should be stored at or near waist level. Pushing a heavy weight is preferred to pulling the same weight.
If the work method requires twisting to handle materials, configure the workplace so the worker will twist in both directions during the course of the task. Repetitive twisting in one direction causes back strain.
Managers should also follow all OSHA record-keeping requirements for back-related injuries that may result from lifting heavy weights.