Worried about workplace back injuries. What can I do?

Here’s the situation: I’m a graphic designer, but when I was looking for a job after college graduation 3 years ago, I had no luck and got an offer through a University to be the sole worker and operator of a small art store on campus. It sounded good, and I needed a job so I took it.

Besides store operations I am also required to lift up to 100lbs or more. of product shipments that arrive to me, which is often, without help. I can handle up to 100lbs but more than that is too much for me. Things that I can’t handle myself are rolls of canvas and large boxes of paper (both close to 200lbs). When I started the job, I had a written job description given to me. Nowhere on it did it state that heavy lifting was required. After a few months on the job, when I approached the services director asking for occasional help with very heavy items, she admitted they goofed by not adding the detail about heavy lifting to the description. She then proceeded to threaten me (!) by saying, “If you can’t do the job, we might have to let you go”. I immediately convinced her I could do it (the job pays well and if I lost my job, I would lose the apartment I share with my husband. He only works part-time and can’t find better; I have been searching for graphic design positions for a couple years and can’t find anything.)
, so that ended that conversation.

Now, they have sinced changed my job description to include a statement about heavy lifting. However, I still have the original one that was given to me when I was hired. I have been lucky in that: 1. I have a good strong back, and, 2. Some of the people in receiving occasionally offer to help me when I get a heavy shipment. I always lift correctly (with the legs, back kept straight), and I never do more than I feel is my limit. So I guess what I am wondering is:

  1. Even though I take precautions, do I have a high risk of permanently injuring my back, and;

  2. If I do injure my back (knock on wood), would my employer be at fault, or would all the blame be placed on me?

I would like to quit if I could, but there is absolutely nothing out there that I can find. I can’t afford to make any less because we would definitely lose our home - money is very tight as it is. :frowning:

Any advice?

Can you ask your boss to provide a wheely cart? Wheely carts are basic tools for a job like that. NO ONE is asked to live 100-200 lbs without a wheely cart. If she won’t provide one, 1) she sucks, and 2) get one yourself. You don’t want to lose your job or your vertebrae on account of her stupidity. I’ll bet OSHA would be all over them if they’re not providing adequate tools for you.

I have a cart that used to be part of a store display :rolleyes: that they gave me to use. It’s great for things like clay, but doesn’t work with the aforementioned canvas rolls and paper boxes. Those are too large to sit on the cart, and I can’t even lift them to shove them onto the cart.

  1. To avoid injury, in addition to the things you do already (keep back straight, lift with legs) consider getting a back support belt. Weightlifters and some construction workers use them. They are available from safety supply companies, sporting goods stores, and (of course) on the web.

  2. Check with your local Workers Compensation Board (or equivalent). If your employer puts you in a situation where heavy lifting is required, work-related injury is a possibility, and they do not supply you with the necessary supports/tools needed to avoid that injury, I would expect that they would be the ones who were in trouble.

Check OSHA regulations. Employers tend to hate OSHA, and hate employees who bring OSHA down on them, but this is exactly the type of thing OSHA is intended to deal with. Perhaps making the employer aware of her responsibilities will be all that is needed. Bringing it up may be perceived as a veiled threat, but wrenching your back will mess up your life a whole lot more than losing your job.

Get a back brace/lumbar support designed to help with lifting. My understanding is that the employer should provide this. Here are some examples:


The OP is in Canada. They do have an equivalent to our OSHA, and their website is here.

I don’t have much to add except I have never heard of a place that required people to be able to lift over 100 lbs. My family owns an importing company that has really heavy boxes and they have regulations about how much people can lift citing liabilty costs about how much an individual person can lift because of that concern. We are talking about hundreds of boxes coming in a day and these are strong males, young males.

Now what you need to do is quite simple. You need to request an OSHA inspector come in an evaluate your job. They will take it from there:

Here is OSHA web site although I would recommend a direct call:


The person you talked to is way out of line BTW.

Sounds like your boss is a horse’s patoot. The long term solution is to get a new boss.

It won’t help in the lifting so much, but there are slider thingys I’ve seen carpet layers use to move heavy stuff from one room to another. It’s a thin matt of something and they lift one end of the object and place the slider under and then work the rest underneath then pull the whole thing.

Sorry, didn’t see that you were in Canada. GED got it right. The idea is the same however. That will bypass everyone in your hierarchy and force them to do it for you and everyone that has your job after you. I am a 6’1’’ male, 200 lbs and I would find it hard to lift that much on a regular basis. It could easily damage your back.

Sorry, that is QED. QED, I didn’t mean to imply that you had a GED, but maybe you took the SAT or maybe even the GRE.

Weightlifting belts are not the wonderful preventative item that they’re made out to be, and over time may contribute to back problems. The Canadian equivalent of OSHA is the way to go.

The weight belt sounds like a good idea. Are they expensive? Since they’re too stingy to get me a cart that was actually meant to carry things, I have a suspicion that a belt like that might be something I’ll have to get myself.

The WSIB (Workplace Safety Insurance Board) is the Canadian equivalent to the OSHA. I would like an inspector to come in, but I don’t want my boss to know if I arranged an inspection - that could be bad for me.

If it is like OSHA, it cannot be bad for you in a direct way. That is a lawsuit waiting to happen and they should know that. There are surely some laws that protect you in that case.

If you look at Q.E.D.'s link, you’ll find this:

Being required to lift 100-200 lbs. unassisted is ridiculous. If it’s too unwieldy to fit on a cart, it’s too unwieldy to carry by yourself. Far from requiring it, a responsible company won’t even ALLOW employees to risk themselves in this way. Insist on a dolly.

Two things:

  1. Check with the Canadian OSHA equivilent. Being required to solo lift and carry weight in excess of 100lbs is truely unsafe and quite possible illegal.

  2. Get a hand truck. I think that’s what Kalhoun means by “wheely cart”, though she could be referring to a dolly. A hand truck would be more usful to you than a dolly, as the hand truck is essentially a lever which will do most of the lifting for you.

FWTW, I used to manage a loading dock, and we were stricktly forbidden to solo lift anything heavier than 50 lbs.

I asked for a dolly/pump truck before I got my little cart, and they said it was too expensive. Also, my store is so small there would be no place to keep the pump truck when not in use. They made me feel silly for even asking.

Seems to me the lawsuit and/or fine over an employee’s injured back could be a lot more expensive than a dolly. This would apply whether said employee is you or someone else, but…if Canada doesn’t allow such lawsuits, and the WSIB doesn’t levy that sort of fine, that may be an irrelevant point.

You’ll feel worse than silly if your back goes out.

Seems to me you’ve got three avenues here:

>Convince your employer to step up to the plate with safe lifting equipment, a helper available for lifting, or some such.

>Bring WSIB into the picture to force your employer to do the above.

>Leave the job, preferably before your back is injured and you’re unable to work at all.

The advice of a knowledgeable lawyer may be invaluable.

That’s exactly what I mean. A dolly would be better, but the hand truck thingy is the way to go. Canadian OSHA would love to hear this, because they’re going to say NO ONE should lift that kind of weight unassisted. Evah.

Cost of a Hand Truck << Cost of a lawsuit and Workers Comp.

I know Canada has workers comp. Okay, I got this knowledge from a Kids in the Hall sketch, but still…

We all symptatize with your situation but the answer about what you should do has already been given. If you employers do not like it then they may have major legal problems. They are clearly in the wrong and it is easy enough to get an inspector in. An employer that reprimands an employee for doing so is facing so serious action. You should not hesitate to do this.