Simple Solutions for Home Building Workers: A Basic Guide for Preventing Manual Material Handling Injuries

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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Summary Statement

In this 2013 booklet, NIOSH has compiled practical recommendations for avoiding serious material handling injuries through readily available work practices and equipment that can help workers, contractors and builders. Manual material handling includes all of the tasks that require workers to lift, lower, push, pull, hold or carry materials.

Two workers carrying long 2 inch by 6 inch boards on padded shoulders



1.Soft tissue injuries
2.Costs of injury
3.Material handling
4.Store and place materials
5.Lifting and carrying
6.Moving materials
7.Raising and lowering
8.Raise exterior walls
9.Raise roof trusses
10.Position and hold materials
11.Repetitive handling
12.Strengthen and lengthen
14.Worker protection
15.Construction safety resources


Jason Cato (Design); Mary Ann Zapalac (Illustrations); National Council of Compensation Insurance (unpublished injury cost data); Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (weight limit recommendation); Jennifer Hess, DC, PhD (strength-building exercises). Special thanks to the residential building subcontractors and workers whose participation in focus groups shaped this booklet.


This document is in the public domain and may be freely copied or reprinted. Mention of any company or product does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, citations to websites external to NIOSH do not constitute NIOSH endorsement of the sponsoring organizations or their programs or products. Furthermore, NIOSH is not responsible for the content of these web sites.


Three workers engaged in the following manual material handling tasks: pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying a long board on one shoulder, and lifting a boxHome building is physically demanding work and manual material handling may be the most difficult part of the job. Manual material handling includes all of the tasks that require you to lift, lower, push, pull, hold or carry materials.

These activities increase the risk of painful strains and sprains and more serious soft tissue injuries.

Soft tissues of the body include muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, cartilage and nerves. Soft tissue injuries cause workers pain, suffering and lost income. They can also restrict non-work activity, like sports and hobbies. Builders’ and employers’ costs include loss of productivity and high workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

This booklet provides basic information about readily available work practices and equipment that can help both new and experienced workers, contractors and builders prevent serious manual material handling injuries.


Herniated disc injury can occur lifting sheet from floor




Soft tissue injuries are different than broken bones, bruises, or punctures. They are injuries of the muscles, discs, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and nerves.

Soft Tissue Injuries:

  • Are common with manual material handling Rotator cuff injury can occur working overhead
  • Occur suddenly or develop over time
  • Affect the low back, shoulders, neck, elbows, arms, hands, wrists, hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet
  • Cause everyday discomfort, pain and may lead to disability
  • Can take months or years to repair—if they ever do
  • Interfere with work and non-work activities



Hip-Low back injury can occur lifting a heavy baga from the ground







Drawing shows worker with back injury unable to play baseball

Workers’ compensation costs for an average lost-time injury for a shoulder are $20,000 and for a back $25,000.

Costs to Workers:

  • Discomfort, pain & loss of income
  • Restricted activities, like sports and hobbies
  • Possible health care expenses

Costs to Employers:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Increased workers’ compensation premiums

Costs to Society:

  • Medical expenses for uninsured workers
  • Social Security disability payments




Stress on the body and risk of injury increase when you:

Worker lifting heavy, unbalanced concrete bag to cement mixer

  • Lift, carry, or hold heavy, unbalanced materials, especially far from the body.
  • Use jerking or fast movements to lift or place materials.





    Worker lifting two long floor joists from ground level

  • Bend and twist your back when picking up materials.







Two workers holding drywall to the ceiling

  • Hold materials overhead or away from the body for long periods.






Worker lifting a heavy concrete block with one hand

  • Repeatedly lift, hold, and place heavy materials.
  • Hold materials away from the body.







Poorly placed materials increase material handling and the risk of injury and decrease productivity.

Building materials placed far from where they will be used

Material storing problems commonly include:

  • Not planning where materials should be staged before they are delivered.
  • Staging materials far from where they will be used results in unnecessary handling.
  • Storing materials too low to the ground or in confined areas makes handling more difficult. ‘Waist’ or ‘belt’ height is best.


Placing materials near the work area decreases material handling and injury risk and increases productivity.

Building materials stqaged close to where they will be used

Better material storage and placement includes:

  • Plan in advance where materials will be stored when they are delivered.
  • Stage materials close to where they will be used and where they will not be in other’s way.
  • Store materials off the ground and between knee and chest height. Leave walking space between materials.


Avoid bending down to lift long boards of lumber. Pad your shoulder to cushion the weight of the board. Lift only one end of the board before standing and walk to the middle of the board. Rest the board on your shoulder and raise the board.

Method to lift boards from ground level without bending back



It’s easier to lift sheet goods off a raised pile. But when they are closer to the ground, use your legs to lift, not your back. Get as close as possible to the sheet. Raise the sheet and then tilt it so you can get a firm hold in the center. Then let the sheet become level and raise it to a comfortable position.Method to lift large sheet materials from ground level with bending back














Using simple tools and equipment can reduce the strain on the body when carrying heavy materials.

Handles for carrying heavy lumberHandles made with pipe and straps for 2 people to carry heavy lumber.






Two commercially available panel carriersOne-person & 2-person panel carriers reduce bending and make carrying easier.






A Drywall DollyDrywall dolly keeps materials off ground & moves sheet materials on floors.






An adjustable drywall dollyAdjustable panel dolly supports heavy weights on pneumatic tires.







Builders/contractors can provide powered equipment to move the heavier materials. Using powered equipment reduces stress on the body & increases worker productivity.

Materials unloaded from truck using truck's crane

Suppliers can unload materials using truck mounted cranes or fork trucks.






A fork truck moving building materialsWork site fork trucks can quickly move materials to where they will be used.






Skid steer loader moving building materialsSkid steer loaders can move materials around on difficult building sites.






Walk behind motorized vehicle for moving building materialsMove materials with walk-behind loaders, power-wagons and other compact equipment.






Raising and lowering heavy materials increases the risk of soft tissue injuries of the back, shoulder and neck. Struck-by injuries and falls from heights can increase when heavy loads are handled between levels.

Workers manually moving sheet materials between floor levels


OSHA requires that one hand grasp a ladder at all times, and it prohibits holding materials while climbing up and down a ladder.

Worker improperly climbing ladder with heavy roof tiles


Prevent injuries by handling smaller weights for less time. Use mechanical lifting equipment to eliminate unnecessary manual material handling.

Use of platform and fork truck to raise materials to upper level of building

Using conveyors to move roofing materials to roof


Exterior walls 12 ft. and longer weigh more than 250 lbs. Lifting walls by hand increases the risk of muscle strains and other injuries. Never lift more than 50 lbs. without getting help. Use enough people so no one lifts more than 50 lbs.

Five workers raising stud wall together

Lift with legs, not with your back. Work together, not against each other. Use wall stops and bracing to steady the wall.


Manual and powered wall jacks can be used to raise heavy exterior walls. Smaller crews can easily raise heavy walls using the jacks, which can be purchased or rented.

Two workers raising stud wall using wall jacks


Trusses shorter than 20 feet can be raised by hand. Use enough people so no one lifts more than 50 lbs. Raise trusses with cranes or other equipment when possible. Balance trusses between the ropes to prevent roll.

Two workers lifting truss to second floor

Place & secure boards to use as a truss ‘slide.’ Raise trusses with rope attached to peak. Avoid bending truss.


Raise roof trusses more than 20 feet long using a crane or other equipment. Comply with OSHA fall protection and crane safety regulations, and always follow the truss manufacturer’s recommendations.

Trusses raised to second floor by crane


Manually holding and placing heavy steel I-beams and wood or laminated beams increases workers’ risk of strains and sprains, falls, broken bones, and crushed fingers.

Two workers placing steel girder across house foundation

Placing a steel I-beam by hand across foundation wall can result in a disabling injury or death.

Skid steer loader placing steel girder across house foundation

Place steel I-beam using skid steer with tele-boom, crane or other powered equipment.

Manually holding and positioning sheet materials overhead, like drywall, can strain the neck, back, shoulder and arm muscles. Use tools like T-braces or mechanical lifts to hold sheets against the ceiling.

Shoulder strain of two workers holding and fastening drywall to ceiling

Handling drywall overhead fatigues the muscles and can lead to neck and shoulder injuries.

T-brace and panel lift for holding sheet materials against ceiling

Simple tools like the T-brace and panel lift reduce fatigue and stress on the body.


Repeatedly handling heavy blocks and other materials puts extra stress on your body. The weight of the materials and awkward body positions – like frequent bending, reaching, and twisting – increase your chance of a muscle or joint injury.

Worker bending to lift concrete block from ground with one hand


Change the way you do the work to reduce injury risks. Place materials close to where they are needed. Set up the work to reduce bending and twisting. Keep materials close to your body. Take short breaks to give muscles and joints needed rest-time.

Concrete blocks placed on board to reduce bending to lift blocks

Increase height of blocks to reduce bending & twisting.

Concrete blocks placed on raised split level scaffold to reduce bending to lift blocks

Use two-level veneer or mason scaffold for higher walls.


Improve core strength and muscle tone with these exercises before work or during breaks. Exercise slowly, don’t bounce! If you have an existing muscle, joint or disc injury, or experience pain with exercise, consult your doctor before doing exercises.

Slowly make large circles forward and backward with each arm while marching in place. Continue for 1 min.





Stand upright with arms relaxed. Step forward slowly with one foot. Do not move knee past your ankle. Keep trunk erect. Return to standing. Continue for 1 min. Switch legs & repeat.





Stand upright with arms relaxed. Take a large step to the left then return to standing. Repeat by stepping to right. Continue for 1 min.





Stand upright with arms relaxed. Take 5 sidesteps to the right. Take 5 side-steps to the left. Repeat 5 times.





Hold bar (or pretend to) behind neck, arms bent at elbows 90°. Gently pull bar backward away from head until you feel stretch in the front of shoulders. Hold 12 seconds, relax. Perform 5 times.



Stand straight, extend one leg backward, contracting buttock muscles. Keep trunk upright. Hold 10 sec, perform 3 times, each side.




Stand straight, lock stomach muscles by pulling rib cage and pelvis together as shown. Try to mildly tighten stomach muscles (10%) when lifting objects. Hold 12 sec, perform 10 times.





Place hands on hips as pictured. Slowly bend backwards, keeping knees straight. Do not extend your head. Hold 12 sec, perform 5 times.






MANUAL MATERIAL HANDLING can cause strains & sprains and more serious injuries to your body. These injuries often result in pain, time away from work and lost wages. Even less serious injuries can keep you from enjoying non-work activities, like sports and hobbies.

You can reduce your chance of serious injury by using safe work practices and following the recommendations below:

Staging materials far from where they will be used and close to the ground increases injury risks.

  • Plan ahead to save time and effort.
  • Decide in advance where YOU want the materials placed when they’re delivered.
  • Keep materials off the ground to reduce stressful bending and lifting.

Bending and twisting your body when lifting heavy materials increases the risk of muscle and other soft tissue injuries.

  • Don’t lift and carry more than 50 lbs. alone. Get help from coworkers.
  • Bend your knees and push up with your legs.
  • Hold materials close to your body.
  • Lift heavier lumber at one end – not the center – and walk to the center to lift it.
  • Use tools and equipment to transport heavy materials when possible.

Raising and lowering heavy materials to different work levels increases the risk of soft tissue and other serious injuries.

  • Lift, hold, and carry materials close to your body.
  • Use supports and equipment to hold materials overhead.
  • Use platforms for raising materials to different work heights.
  • NEVER carry materials in your hands on ladders.
  • NEVER lift or position heavy materials standing on a ladder.
  • Use mechanical equipment to raise and lower heavier materials.
  • Use fall protection as required when working at heights and raising or lowering materials.

Holding unsupported materials above the shoulders fatigues the shoulders and neck and can result in serious injury.

  • Use tools and equipment to support materials.
  • NEVER support heavy materials on your head.
  • Take short breaks to give muscles and joints time to ‘recover’ from the strain.
  • Use tools & equipment to support heavy loads and reduce your strain.

Repeatedly lifting and positioning heavy materials – like concrete blocks – increases the physical stress on the same muscles and soft tissues.

  • Use boards or scaffolds to keep blocks, mortar, and other materials around knee high.
  • Don’t twist the body when lifting or placing materials.


Employers must insure their employees have a workplace free of recognized job hazards that can cause serious injury or death. Federal and State Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA) enforce job safety and health regulations to protect workers.


  • Taking action alone or with co-workers to protect your safety and health.
  • Contacting OSHA to request a safety inspection of your job site.


  • Informing employees about job hazards through training and other means.
  • Training employees in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Providing certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including fall protection.

If you live in one of the following states (or Puerto Rico), you can get your State OSHA contact info by calling Federal OSHA (1–800–321–6742) or visiting Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

If you live in other States or US Territories, contact Federal OSHA at: (Tel) 1–800–321–6742 or find the contact information for the nearest Federal OSHA Regional or Area office by visiting

Employers sometimes classify workers as “independent contractors”, rather than as employees. Employees have legal rights to minimum wage, overtime pay, Workers’ Compensation, job site safety and health and filing OSHA complaints. “Independent contractors” do not have these protections. For more information call 866–487–9243 or visit


  • Employers must have Workers’ Compensation insurance to pay employees’ injury-related medical costs and other benefits in every state except Texas. Without Workers’ Compensation benefits workers may not receive the medical care or other benefits they deserve.
  • For info regarding individual State Workers’ Compensation programs, visit


  • Federal and State laws require that employers pay employees a minimum wage for the regular hours they work. If you work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week, you may be eligible for a higher wage for the extra hours you work. For info regarding Federal wage and overtime pay requirements, call 1–866–487–2365 or visit
  • For info regarding individual State wage and overtime pay requirements, visit


For more information about preventing work related injuries and illnesses, you can check out the information provided by the following organizations:

Description of Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) safety & health regulations.

Free information about safety and health hazards in the construction industry.

Source for information about controlling and eliminatingconstruction safety and health hazards and training.


Safety & health information from home builders’ trade association.

Source for safety information.

Affiliated Worker Centers provide safety & health training in English and Spanish and assist workers with other employment problems, like “wage theft”.




Lifting and carrying more than 50 lbs. increases your risk of low back injury. Use the lists below to help keep the weight you handle to around 50 lbs.

Lumber Pieces, Kiln Dried
No. of Pieces Length Dimensions Weight
4 10 ft. 2"x4" 51 lbs.
3 12 ft. 2"x4" 46 lbs.
2 10 ft. 2"x6" 40 lbs.
2 12 ft. 2"x6" 48 lbs.
2 10 ft. 2"x8" 53 lbs.
1 10 ft. 2"x10" 66 lbs.
1 10 ft. 2"x12" 41 lbs.
2 10 ft. 4"x4"
60 lbs.


No. of Pieces Length Dimensions Weight
LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) Pieces
1 10 ft. 1 3/4"x9 1/4" 47 lbs.
1 10 ft. 1 3/4"x11 7/8" 61 lbs.
1 10 ft. 1 3/4"X14" 71 lbs.


No. of Pieces Length Dimensions Weight (Plywood) Weight (OSB)
2 3/8" 4'x8' 68 lbs. 77 lbs.
1 1/2" 4'x8' 45 lbs. 54 lbs.
1 5/8" 4'x8' 58 lbs. 67 lbs.
1 3/4" 4'x8' 68 lbs. 80 lbs.


Sheets--Cementitious Backboard
No. of Pieces Length Dimensions Weight
1 7/16" 4'x8' 96 lbs.


Concrete Blocks--Light Wt./Normal Wt.
No. of Pieces Dimensions Light Weight Block Normal Weight Block
1 6"x8"x16" 22 lbs. 34 lbs.
1 8"x8"x16" 27 lbs. 44 lbs.
1 12"x8"x16" 35 lbs. 55 lbs.



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DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2013–111


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health