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BWC/OSU Lifting Guidelines

BWC and The Ohio State University (OSU) have partnered on a research project that could lessen the frequency of recurrent occupational back injuries. Researchers from OSU worked with BWC personnel and Ohio employers to test employees with back injuries and to document the demands of the jobs when they return to work.

A possible reason why second back injuries occur is because the injured employee returns to work without adequate work restrictions while still recovering. When a back injury is aggravated, it often leads to permanent damage. To help prevent this scenario, researchers from OSU and BWC have developed lifting guidelines. The data is based on laboratory studies of 123 individuals. The guidelines are based on low-frequency lifts lasting approximately one minute.


  • To aid in developing realistic transitional work programs for employees with low-back disorders
  • To provide guidance on the design of lifting tasks to reduce the frequency and severity of initial and recurring back claims

Who should use the guidelines?

  • Employers - To facilitate transitional work and evaluate lifting tasks. The guide also can help employers develop job redesign strategies to minimize the risk of initial and recurring low-back disorders.
  • Medical professionals - To develop realistic recommendations for injured workers' capabilities. The capabilities can be related to characteristics in the workplace.
  • Transitional work providers - To place employees recovering from low-back disorders in the right tasks at the right time. The tool can help return an injured worker to work as soon as possible while minimizing the risk of aggravating an existing low-back disorder.

Furthermore, these guidelines can help facilitate communication between the medical provider, transitional work developer and the employer by matching the injured worker with appropriate jobs and by redesigning jobs. This increases transitional work options.


  • The chart and accompanying tool are intended to be used as a guideline and not as a substitute for professional judgment. Contact the Division of Safety & Hygiene for professional assistance.
  • Low-back disorder, in this case, only applies to musculoskeletal strains, sprains and non-specific low-back pain.
  • These guidelines are not intended to be used as a diagnostic tool or as a medical evaluation device.
  • These guidelines are intended as recommendations for populations. One should consult with his or her physician to determine when one has transitioned from the low-back pain group to the normal group.
  • These guidelines are intended for low-frequency lifting tasks. Low-frequency is defined as one lift per minute AND fewer than 120 lifts per day.

Instructions for using Lifting guidelines chart

  • Determine the angle of asymmetry associated with a specific lifting task. Then, choose the chart that corresponds. There are three separate charts: +/- 30 degrees, between 30 and 60 degrees, and between 60 and 90 degrees. 
  • Choose a column indicating whether the individual has a lower-back disorder (LBD) or is healthy. 
  • Determine the maximum horizontal reach distance from spine (measured from spine to hands) using the guide at the top of the columns. The guide is broken down into distances of 12 inches and 24 inches. 
  • Choose the vertical lift origin for the specific task from the right side of the chart. Vertical lift origin is the level from which lifts will be made. This can be from the floor, from the knees, from the waist or shoulder level. Also, choose the weight of the lift in pounds. 
  • Determine if your specified lifting conditions fall within the green zone (low risk), yellow zone (moderate risk) or red zone (high risk). 
  • To minimize the risk of recurrent injury, change any lifting criteria in the high or moderate risk zone so that the lifting task is in a green area of the chart. To do this, consult the Lifting tips page or contact the Division of Safety & Hygiene for assistance. 

Note: The maximum weight recommended under the best circumstances for workers with a LBD is 25 pounds, and that has a medium risk of re-injury. 

Lifting tips

Eliminate unnecessary lifting
Whenever possible, eliminate manual materials handling by combining operations or shortening the distances that material must be moved. Look at material flow through the facility, and eliminate any unnecessary lifts.

Automate or mechanize lifting
If it's not possible to eliminate the lift, consider automating the lifting task or using a mechanical lifting device. Devices such as hoists, cranes and manipulators can eliminate the forces on the spine associated with manual materials handling. Therefore, the likelihood of back injuries is also reduced.

Modify the job to fit within worker capabilities
If material must be handled manually, design the job to reduce the stress on the body as much as possible. See job modifications below.

  • Allow for lifting loads as close to the body as possible. Some techniques to reduce reaching distances are:
    • Eliminate any barriers such as the sides of bins or boxes.
    • Use a turn table for loads on pallets.
    • Use a tilt table to allow for better access into bins.
  • Place the load as close to waist height as possible. This may be accomplished by using adjustable lift tables or inclined conveyors to locate the object to be handled at waist height.
  • Reduce the need to twist the trunk by re-orienting the lifting origins and destinations.
  • Reduce the weight of the load being lifted so that the weights are within these lifting guidelines.

Lifting guidelines links