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Protect Your Back

6 Mar, 2002 By: Jim Intravia imageSource

Protect Your Back

Back injuries can be among the most painful and debilitating situations that you will ever have the misfortune to experience. Some back problems are unavoidable, congenital, or accidental. If you are in the business of servicing and/or selling office equipment, you are frequently exposing yourself to back injury. Machines are always being lifted onto workbenches, demo carts, into car trunks, carried up and down stairs, placed on the floor, lifted from the floor, etc.

Some machines are lightweights (30 lbs or so) for personal copiers, faxes, and printers. Commercial copiers and larger printers are often in the 100-lb. range. At this size, an individual will often be expected to deliver the machine, or pull it into the shop, unassisted. Many machines are 200 lbs. or more.

Preventing Injury
Injury is inevitable, if you're not careful, that is. Your muscles, ligaments, and joints were not designed for lifting heavy things once or twice a day for dozens of years. Each lift of a machine may not seem like a big deal, especially when you are young, but they add up. You have no doubt heard about how many pitches a baseball pitcher has in his arm. No-one talks about how many copier liftings we have in our bodies. We don't have relief pitchers. You must take steps to protect yourself. The best way is to not move the machines. I said best, not most practical, or even feasible. Xerox® Corporation, around 1970 or so had a very simple company policy. If any of their technicians physically moved a customer's machines, they were fired. This was a good incentive for technicians not to move machines.

Most technicians do not have mother Xerox® protecting them. If you don't lift the copier, there are probably severe consequences to your job and/or your income. However, just as Xerox® techs got customers to move their machines (remember the machine belongs to the customer, in most cases, not you) so can you, at least in some situations. If a heavy machine requires two people, and you don't have a helper, the customer will usually supply one (not always, but usually). In many cases, the customer will have young men working there. These guys love to do heavy lifting, especially if there are young women around. Needless to say, Gyms and health clubs are great for this. AARP offices are really tough.

Do A Walk Through - Site-Survey First
In many cases, there is no escape. Before you pick up a machine, walk the route that you have to take. Start where the machine is located (such as in your car) and walk all the way, to exactly where the unit is going. Be sure that all doorways, door saddles, steps, turns, stairways, are easily negotiated with the machine. In some cases, you can have the customer open a rarely used door, use a freight elevator, or enter from an adjoining office. This will sometimes save you a flight of stairs. If the machine is replacing another machine, make arrangements so that neither one has to go to the floor while the other is moved. Clear off a desk, or find something at desk height that you can use for a few minutes. If you take a 75 lb. machine off a desk and set it on the floor, you will have to lift it up again in a few minutes. That is two up and down trips of your body, lifting 75 lbs. Those two trips can be almost avoidable, if you do a little planning ahead of time.

Plan Ahead
If you are delivering a cabinet with the machine, be sure to deliver it first. This way, when you get the machine to its destination, you slide it right onto the cabinet. If you are taking the old machine, you slide it right on to the demo cart. If you don't have a demo cart and must carry the old one, at least it is still at a comfortable height, and won't require squatting down.

Don't Do Favors
People don't necessarily expect you to dispose of their old machine, or to move it anywhere. Don't offer. If they ask, then decide what to do, but there is no reason for you to volunteer to hurt your back and fill your dumpster. It is their garbage and they will deal with it if you keep your mouth shut. If you want to be a nice guy, go right ahead, but you will gain nothing. Moreover, the old machine is sometimes given away to someone else who may eventually call you for service or toner some day. Bear in mind, that taking the old machine adds at least two more times that you have to lift it and handle it, even if it is garbage. Don’t forget that you or the customer is legally and ethically obligated to properly dispose of the drum (if selenium or Cadmium sulfide).

When You Must
Two people carrying a big machine up or down stairs is no fun. Minimize the agony. Be sure that you can make the turn at the top or bottom of the stairs. Try to find a place where you can both rest, if necessary, with the machine on your laps. Pretty uncomfortable, but if you must rest, you must rest. Try to lighten the machine, if possible. Document feeders, developer units, and fuser units can often be removed from the machine without much effort. Removing developer and toner sometimes allows the machine to be handled differently. Normally, the machine must be kept close to level.

Some Tricks To Stair Deliveries
1. The shorter person should be on top. The difference in your heights is effectively doubled when going up or down stairs, causing more discomfort to both lifters.

2. The upper person should hold the machine as low as possible. The lower person should hold the machine as high as possible. This will keep the machine close to level and will keep the weight distributed between them about 50/50. It is quite easy to neglect this and have the lower person practically carrying the whole thing while the upper person is only steering.

3. Be sure the machine handles are working properly, and won't pull out of their brackets. If you are handling metal, wear work gloves or wrap the handles with a rag. The pain of metal rails cutting into your hands with a fair share of 250 lbs. can be unbearable.

4. When you encounter flat areas, such as a landing or the first and last steps, the two partners have to cooperate more than usual. The person who is walking on the flat has to slow down and let the person going up or down steps set the pace. Otherwise, the person on the steps will quickly have their arms stretched out and will bend their back, as the machine accelerates away from them due to the increased speed of the lifter on the flat spot.

Machines come in boxes. Unboxing them is another injury prone event. We have made it a policy that we do not accept machines for repairs in the box. The customer must take the machine outside, unbox it, and carry it in. The act of lifting, even a 25-lb. machine out of a carton with your back bent is dangerous. The customer only does it once. We would be doing it all the time, if we allowed it. So far, I have not found any problems with manufacturers (you know that old thing about returning things in original cartons).

What If You Drop It?
If you drop a customer's machine on your foot, who sues who? If the customer is injured helping you with their machine, who is responsible? Think of other possibilities of this nature. If you drop the customer's machine while putting it in their car as they pick it up or bring it to your shop, who is responsible? I don't know the answers. What I do is to work as hard as I can to make these events less likely to happen.

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