How Much Am I Allowed to Lift?

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

A discussion about how much can be lifted safely, including a link to a calculator.

Lifting heavy objects can lead to back pain and back injuries. Many workers ask, "How much am I allowed to lift?" There have been many guidelines proposed, but none of them set one lifting limit based just on the weight that is lifted. Why not?

The problem is, weight alone does not determine the risk for back injury. Other factors include:

  • How often you are lifting something
  • Whether you bend or twist while lifting
  • How high an object is lifted
  • Whether you hold the object away from you while lifting
  • How long you lift or hold the object.

So an object that is safe to lift at one time can cause back problems another time.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a lifting equation to set a recommended weight limit for one person under different conditions. The NIOSH lifting equation establishes a maximum load of 51 pounds, which is then adjusted to account for how often you are lifting, twisting of your back during lifting, the vertical distance the load is lifted, the distance of the load from your body, the distance you move while lifting the load, and how easy it is to hold onto the load. The NIOSH lifting equation is not a regulation.

The Department of Labor and Industries in Washington state has developed an application for analyzing lifting tasks, based on this NIOSH equation. The app can help you learn if a job puts you at risk for back injury : A downloadable app for a smart phone can be found here: