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



          1. How do the nationally defined regulations in Canada specifically address weight limits for manual lifting tasks, and what criteria should be considered beyond the commonly believed “23 kg” rule-of-thumb? The nationally defined regulations in Canada, as per the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, provide specific guidance on manual lifting tasks. While the commonly believed “23 kg” rule-of-thumb may have originated from the Liberty Mutual tables, the regulations outline criteria beyond this rule, considering factors such as workplace demographics, lifting frequency, vertical travel distance, grip, and twisting. Understanding these regulations is crucial for comprehending the nuanced approach to setting safe lifting limits.

          2. In provincially-regulated organizations in Ontario, where no published manual lifting weight limits exist, what specific precautions and safeguards are recommended by the Ontario Industrial Regulations to ensure worker safety, and how does the dispute resolution process involving a Ministry ergonomist function in determining safe lifting conditions? Provincially-regulated organizations in Ontario, unlike federally regulated ones, lack published manual lifting weight limits. The Ontario Industrial Regulations emphasize the employer’s responsibility to provide precautions and safeguards for worker safety. In cases of disputes about manual handling conditions, a Ministry ergonomist may recommend a detailed assessment involving tools like the Liberty Mutual tables, a biomechanical model, or the NIOSH equation. This reveals a need for additional resources to interpret and establish safe lifting weights for workers in Ontario.

          3. The blog mentions that the “23 kg” rule-of-thumb might have originated from the Liberty Mutual tables and outlines specific conditions under which this weight may be considered safe. However, in real-life lifting conditions, many factors come into play. What tools and assessments do ergonomists typically use to set maximum lifting weights for tasks, and how do they account for diverse workplace populations, lifting frequencies, and other variables in their recommendations? Ergonomists, when asked to set a maximum lifting weight for a task, consider a range of factors beyond the generalized “23 kg” rule-of-thumb. The Liberty Mutual tables, mentioned in the blog, allow 23 kg under specific, ideal conditions. However, real-life lifting situations rarely meet all these criteria. Ergonomists utilize various tools and assessments, such as psychophysical assessments, biomechanical models, and equations like NIOSH, to determine safe lifting limits. Their approach takes into account workplace demographics, lifting frequency, vertical travel distance, forward reach, grip, twisting, and other relevant variables for a comprehensive evaluation of manual lifting tasks.


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