Manual Material Handling & Safe Lifting

Most of us handle material by hand, either at work or away from work. Lifting, carrying, or pushing material from one place to another are common tasks. We think of these as simple operations, and often take for granted the stress we exert on our body. The good news is that back pain is preventable!

When you must lift an object, follow the steps below.

Plan Your Lift

Lifting objects incorrectly can result in unnecessary strain on the back and surrounding muscles.  In order to lift correctly and reduce strain on your back, it is important to plan your lift in advance. Always take the time to identify hazards and then take the steps necessary to eliminate injury potential.

Size up the Load

  • Before you lift something … think it through. Ask yourself:
    • Can I lift it alone?  Get help if you need it.
    • Is the load bulky or too heavy for one person to handle?  If the load is too heavy, bulky, or awkward for you to lift alone, find a co-worker to help you carry it.  If no one is available, break the load into smaller loads if possible, or, use a cart or dolly to help you move it.  Any time you can use a machine instead of muscle to perform a lift, then you should.
    • How far do I have to travel while carrying the load?
    • Do I need mechanical help?
    • Should I ask a co-worker for help?
    • Are there any hazards in the area that can be eliminated?

Whenever possible, pushing or pulling the load which is often better than lifting.  While pushing and pulling objects are preferable to lifting and carrying them, there is still potential for injury.

Look for simple solutions to help make the move easier on you and your back.

Perform the Lift

Safe lifting means keeping your back aligned while you lift, maintaining your center of balance, and letting the strong muscles in your legs do the actual lifting.  By using the following techniques, you can lift safely and save your back from accidental strain and injury:

  • Align yourself correctly in front of the load with one foot slightly in front of the other for balance.
  • Bend your knees, not your waist.  This helps you keep your center of balance and lets the strong muscles in your legs do the lifting.
  • Keep your back in a neutral or natural arched position.
  • Firmly grip the load with both palms and bring it as close to your body as you can.  This will help distribute the weight of the load over your feet and make the move easier.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Gradually straighten your legs to a standing position avoiding quick, jerky motions.
  • Avoid twisting.  Twisting can overload your spine and lead to serious injury.  Make sure your feet, knees, and torso are pointed in the same direction when you are lifting.
  • Footing.  Double check your feet for proper form.
  • Make sure the load is not blocking your vision as you begin to walk slowly to your destination.
  • If you need to turn to the side, turn by moving your feet around and not by twisting at your stomach.

When lifting above waist height, set the object down on a table or bench, shift your grip, and then lift again.

Above all – lift comfortably!  You are the best judge of the most comfortable position for yourself.

Setting the Load Down

Once you have reached your destination, it is equally important that the load is set down correctly.  By reversing the above lifting procedures, you can reduce the strain on your back and stomach muscles.  If you set your load on the ground, squat down by bending your knees and position the load out in front of you.  If the load is set down at table height, set the load down slowly and maintain your contact with it until you are sure the load is secure and will not fall when you leave.

Other Considerations

Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task – gloves, safety shoes, or other equipment for a special job.

Watch for sharp corners, rough or slippery surfaces, or loose materials.  Be sure the surface is clean and in good condition.

Be sure you can see over or around the object so that you can see where you’re going; don’t let the object obstruct your vision.

Avoid steep ramps, stairs and ladders whenever possible.

Preventing Back Pain

Aside from pain that arises from using your back improperly, following a few basic rules about posture, and exercise can help keep your back in good shape.

Exercise to Strengthen Your Back and Reduce Stress

Having strong back and stomach muscles is important in order to ease the work your back is put through each day.  By doing simple back-toning exercises, you not only strengthen your back but also reduce stress and improve your appearance, too! 

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight exerts extra force on back and stomach muscles.  Your back tries to support the weight causing excess strain on the lower back muscles.  By losing weight, you can reduce strain on your back.  

Maintain Good Posture

You can prevent many back pains by learning to sit, stand, and lift items correctly.  When you sit down, don’t slouch.  Slouching makes the back ligaments, not the muscles, stretch and hurt, thus putting pressure on the vertebrae.  The best way to sit is straight, with your back against the back of the chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees slightly higher than your hips.  Stand tall with your head up and shoulders back.

Maintain Good Posture While You Sleep and Drive

Sleep on a mattress that provides good back support. If your mattress is too soft it could result in a back sprain or sway back.  Sleep on your side with your knees bent (or on your back with a pillow under your knees for support.  Drive with your back straight against the seat and close enough to the wheel, so your knees are bent and slightly higher than your hips.

Remember - It takes no more time to do a safe lift than to do an unsafe lift, so why not play it safe and lift right?

Asbestos Facts

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral found in certain types of rock formations. When mined and processed, it takes the form of very small fibers which are usually invisible to the naked eye. These individual fibers are generally mixed with a material which binds them together so that they can be used in many different products. Asbestos became a popular commercial product because it is strong, won’t burn, resists corrosion, and insulates well. It is most commonly used as insulation and in building materials. It has been used in floor and ceiling tile, cement asbestos pipe, corrugated paper pipe wrap, acoustical and decorative insulation, pipe and boiler insulation, and spray-applied fireproofing. The fluffy white substance you may find on steel structures above a dropped ceiling, for example, is one type of spray-applied material. The amount of asbestos in products varies widely, from less than 1 to 100 percent, depending on the use. Positive identification of asbestos in a product can only be made when samples are taken by a properly trained and licensed asbestos professional (inspector). The precise amount of asbestos can only be determined from analysis of samples by an accredited laboratory. However, EPA only recommends testing suspect materials if they are damaged (fraying, crumbling) or if you are planning a renovation that would disturb the suspect material.

Although the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for most asbestos-containing products was banned in the US in 1989, the rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.

Asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems. If inhaled, they can disrupt the normal functioning of the lungs. Three specific diseases – asbestosis, lung cancer, and another cancer known as mesothelioma have been linked to asbestos exposure. These diseases do not develop immediately after inhalation of asbestos fibers; it may be 20 years or more before symptoms appear. In general, as with cigarette smoking, the more asbestos fibers a person inhales, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. The most severe health problems from asbestos exposure have been experienced by some workers who held jobs in industries such as shipbuilding, where they were exposed to very high levels of asbestos in the air. These employees worked directly with asbestos materials on a regular basis as a part of their jobs. Much uncertainty surrounds the risk from exposure to low levels of asbestos fibers.

When Is Asbestos a Problem?

Intact and undisturbed asbestos materials generally do not pose a health risk. Asbestos materials, however, can become hazardous when, due to damage or deterioration over time, they release fibers. If the fibers are inhaled, they can lead to health problems. The potential for an asbestos containing material to release fibers depends primarily on its condition. If the material, when dry, can be crumbled by hand pressure – a condition known as “friable” – it is more likely to release fibers, particularly when damaged.

What Are the Proper Methods for Managing Asbestos?

Most asbestos-containing material can be properly managed where it is. In fact, asbestos that is managed properly and maintained in good condition appears to pose relatively little risk to building occupants and employees. Proper asbestos management begins with a comprehensive inspection by qualified, trained and experienced inspectors, licensed by New York State. Inspecting the condition of asbestos materials is extremely important so that changes in the material’s condition, such as damage or deterioration, can be detected and corrected before the condition worsens. Sometimes normal school or maintenance activities can damage asbestos material and cause fiber release, particularly if the material is “friable.” A thorough initial inspection and regular surveillance can prevent accidental exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers.

Proper methods for dealing with material that has become damaged are:

  • Developing and carrying out a special maintenance plan to insure that asbestos containing materials are kept in good condition. This is the most common method when the materials are in good condition at the time of initial inspection.
  • Spraying the material with a sealant to prevent fiber release – a process called encapsulation.
  • Removing asbestos – generally necessary only when the material damage is extensive and severe, and other actions will not control fiber release.

Encapsulation and removal must be done by NYS licensed asbestos professionals. The decision to remove asbestos containing material on campus is made after careful consideration of all possible outcomes. An ill-conceived or poorly conducted removal has the potential to create a greater health risk than leaving it undisturbed. Consequently, all school removal projects are designed, supervised, and conducted by licensed professionals and are performed in accordance with state-of-the-art procedures. In addition, an experienced and qualified, third-party project monitor is hired to oversee the asbestos contractor’s work to make sure the removal is conducted safely.

Asbestos Abatement Projects

Asbestos abatement is conducted when asbestos containing materials are damaged or anytime work is planned in areas where asbestos is present and may be disturbed by the work.  When abatement is necessary, the campus hires a contractor to remove the material.  We are also required to hire a separate contractor to conduct air monitoring both inside the abatement area and immediately outside the abatement area.  This contractor is also responsible for managing the project.  In advance of the abatement, and only after project approval, New York State regulations require posting of notices on building entrances.

How Can I Protect Myself?

As a parent, teacher, student, service worker or other school employee, the most important thing you can do first is to learn about your school’s asbestos activities. As you do so, remember that the mere presence of asbestos in a school doesn’t necessarily mean that the health of its occupants is endangered. Again, asbestos that is managed properly and maintained in good condition poses relatively little risk. Federal regulations do not require the removal of all friable asbestos from schools until the building is demolished. In fact, during the life of the building, other methods of dealing with the material are often preferable to removal. In those cases when removing asbestos is determined to be the appropriate decision, the work must be done under strict controls by trained, qualified and experienced asbestos professionals who are licensed by NYS.

The most important and simplest thing you can do to minimize your exposure to asbestos is to be aware of which materials contain asbestos. Once you know where asbestos is, avoid day-to-day activities that might disturb the material. If disturbed asbestos containing material is observed report the condition immediately to either the Office of Residential and Student Life, via RA or RC; Facilities Management; or the Environmental, Health and Safety Department so the condition can be investigated and corrective action taken.

Campus actions:

Regularly inspect the condition of asbestos-containing materials to ensure they remain intact.

Encourage students to promptly report damaged materials.

Source: EPA

Cold Stress

What is cold stress?

Anyone working in a cold environment may be at risk of cold stress.  Some workers may be required to work outdoors in cold environments and for extended periods, for example, snow cleanup crews, maintenance workers, police officers and emergency response personnel. 

A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature.  Whenever temperatures drop below normal and wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly.

Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature (core temperature).  This may lead to serious health problems, and may cause tissue damage, and possibly death.

Increased wind speed also causes heat to leave the body more rapidly, this is known as the wind chill effect.  Wind chill is the temperature your body feels when air temperature and wind speed are combined. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on the exposed skin is as if the air temperature was 28°F.   Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body.

Risk factors for cold stress include:

  • Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion.
  • Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.
  • Poor physical conditioning.

Types of Cold Stress

  • Frostbite
  • Hypothermia 
  • Immersion/Trench Foot 


Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues.  Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation.  The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. 

What are the symptoms of frostbite? 
  • At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
  • In severe cases, blistering after rewarming the affected areas


Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F.  Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced.  Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy.  The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.  Hypothermia most likely occurs at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.   Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.  This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know what is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia? 
  • Uncontrollable shivering, which should not be ignored
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness and possibly death
  • Bright red, cold skin (in infants)

Immersion/Trench Foot

Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions.  It can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F if feet remain wet.  Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet.

What are the symptoms of trench foot?

Reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and blisters.

How can cold stress be prevented?

  • Recognize cold stress illnesses and injuries and how to prevent them. 
  • If possible, shield work areas from drafts or wind to reduce wind chill.
  • It is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather.  Drink plenty of warm sweetened liquids. 
  • If possible, schedule heavy work during the warmer part of the day.
  • Work in pairs (buddy system), to monitor each other for signs of cold stress.
  • Take a break in a warm area if you become extremely uncomfortable.
  • Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.
  • Dress properly.
  • The type of fabric worn makes a difference.  Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet.  Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet.
  • Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing for better insulation. 
    • An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body.
    • A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
    • An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
  • Do not wear tight fitting clothing.
  • Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer.  Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
  • Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth (if needed).
  • Use insulated gloves to protect the hands (water resistant if necessary).
  • Wear insulated and waterproof boots (or other footwear). 

Power Strip and Extension Cord Safety

A previously published National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report shows that fires involving extension cords accounted for 57% of the fires involving cords or plugs, as well as disproportionate shares of civilian deaths (70%) and injuries (69%). Extension cords were involved in an estimated average of 1,750 non-confined home fires in that period. These fires resulted in annual averages of 80 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $79 million in direct property damage.

The purpose of this policy is to describe the permissible use of power strips and extension cords within Purchase College buildings. It applies to use of these devices on campus and is useful information for home as well.

Mold Facts

Increasing public awareness regarding the health effects of mold has led to increased concern. Molds are part of the natural environment, and can be found everywhere, indoors and outdoors. In general, background mold spore levels tend to be higher in rural areas near forests and swampy areas.  There are several forested and swampy areas on campus where mold would not be uncommon.

Mold can grow on virtually any organic substance, as long as moisture and a food source is present. Mold is not usually a problem, unless it begins growing indoors. All of us are exposed to a variety of fungal spores daily in the air we breathe.

When excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth may occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. However, mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture indoors.

In many cases, occupant actions in response to changing weather conditions such as variations between hot and cold can provide ideal conditions for mold to grow. For example, opening windows when it is hot and not closing them when it is raining or very damp outside, will increase interior moisture.

Identifying moisture problems as soon as they become apparent and responding immediately is the best approach to prevent widespread contamination of an area. The importance of alerting the facilities management team to a problem anytime a leak or water damage is discovered cannot be overstressed. This will allow the team to respond, correct the moisture problem and begin cleaning the area. The response will begin with a thorough visual inspection. This is the most important initial step in identifying a possible mold problem and in determining remediation strategies to be followed.

Once a condition is reported, occupants must not  engage in cleaning up mold as mold and mold spores may be dispersed throughout the air where they can be inhaled by building occupants.