What is the maximum weight a worker can lift? (Nationally, Provincially, and Practically)

This is a question that is often asked of ergonomists. Many people believe that the maximum is 23 kg, or 50 lbs. Here are the facts:

Nationally (Canada)

Nationally, certain regulations apply to federally regulated organizations, such as airlines and banks, as defined by the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (SOR/86-304), specifically Division III, Sections 14.46-14.48. These regulations offer valuable guidance:

    • Office workers should not be required to lift or carry loads exceeding 23 kg.

    • Manual handling training: Employees tasked with lifting or carrying loads weighing 10 kg or more must receive safe handling training.

    • Heavier loads: For loads exceeding 45 kg, comprehensive training and written instructions are mandatory. These instructions should be readily accessible and retained by the employer for two years after they cease to apply.

Provincially (Ontario)

Provincially-regulated organizations are bound by rules that suggest that employers need to provide safe workplaces. The Ontario Industrial Regulations suggest that employers need to provide “precautions and safeguards, including protective clothing, guards or other precautions as will ensure…safety.” Unlike federally regulated organizations, provincially regulated companies are not bound by published manual lifting weight limits.

When a dispute occurs about the safety of a manual handling condition, and a Ministry ergonomist may be asked to make a ruling, they often recommend that a more detailed assessment should be done. This might involve the Liberty Mutual tables (a “psychophysical” assessment tool), a biomechanical model, or the NIOSH equation. All of this is to say, you’ll need some help interpreting a safe lifting weight for Ontario workers.

Practically (Right here, right now)

Practically-speaking, the maximum weight an individual can safely lift, once, is a little less than that person’s absolute maximum in that specific body position and grip. But if the lifting task is repetitive, we need to limit the load weight so the person does not become fatigued and prone to injury. An ergonomist uses tools to identify a safe lifting limit, so that a majority of workers will be able to lift that particular load, in that particular position, at that rate, safely.

The “23 kg” rule-of-thumb that many people believe to be a formal rule may have originated with the Liberty Mutual tables. When you look at those tables, you’ll discover that the guidelines will allow 23 kg:

    • In a workplace with both males and females.

    • If the lift occurs only once per shift.

    • When the load is raised only a short vertical distance.

    • If the load is held close to the body.

    • With a secure grip on the object.

    • Without the need for twisting.

From a practical perspective, very few real life lifting conditions meet these criteria. Ergonomists shudder at the suggestion that work-in-process totes, used throughout a facility to transport products, can weigh up to 23 kg!!

When asked to set a maximum lifting weight for a task, an ergonomist considers the workplace population, lifting frequency, vertical travel distance, forward reach, grip, twisting, and more.

Need some help? Contact carrie@taylordergo.com for an assessment quote, or explore our employee training on our website, here:

Safe lifting training for workers

Ergonomics training for outdoor workers

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