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Many job descriptions include a statement about potential lifting requirements, such as “must be able to lift up to 25 pounds.” This is true even in office jobs where lifting isn't a daily activity. The weightlifting requirements for women vary based on the job duties. There's no specific national law regarding weight limits for women, but several guidelines exist.
During World War II – a time when many women entered the workforce for the first time – the National Safety Council adopted weightlifting guidelines to help reduce the number of work-related back injuries. For women, the Council recommended lifting no more than 25 pounds, a number that stayed in place for more than two decades. The maximum lifting recommendations for women gradually increased, hitting 44 pounds in the 1960s -- recommendations that were adopted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1965. While other groups published other recommendations that went up to a maximum lift weight of 46 pounds for women, U.S. government agencies didn't adopt them as guidelines.
Since the 1980s, lifting guidelines tend to follow a formula created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This formula is rather complex, taking many factors into account such as where the object is positioned before you lift it, how high you must lift it, whether the container has proper hand holds, if you have stable footing and whether you must turn your body while holding the object. As a general guideline, NIOSH determined a basic recommended maximum lift weight of 51 pounds for men and women. Federal guidelines followed by groups such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follow the NIOSH recommendation, although there's no legislation requiring use of the NIOSH recommendation. Many employers follow the federal guidelines as well.
Safe Lifting Procedures
The weight isn't always as important as the way you lift. You can injure yourself with light weights if you don't lift them properly. Squat to pick up objects on the floor, hold the object close to your body and stand up using your leg power rather than back muscles, for example. Don't twist from the waist when holding heavy boxes, and make sure your footing is secure – this could mean avoiding lifting when you're wearing high heels, which don't offer as much stability as flat shoes.
Employers can reduce the chance of staff injuries on the job by training staff effectively and providing clear safety policies as well as the proper equipment. Requiring regular small and large-group training sessions helps ensure all staff members know the best way to lift, how to use new equipment and understand the safety procedures. Employers also should provide lifting tips in writing, perhaps posting examples with pictures in visible places in the work space. They can encourage staff to ask questions and provide feedback on policies that work well and those that need improvement. Employers also might purchase specialized equipment to assist staff with heavy loads, such as waist-high storage and scissor lifts.
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures men and women receive reasonable accommodations – including lower weightlifting limits if necessary – if they become disabled, women often face a similar issue without as much legislative protection when they're pregnant. Most women receive weightlifting restrictions from their doctors during pregnancy and receive limited job protection under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but the Act doesn't specifically say an employer must accommodate the temporary needs of a pregnant woman. For example, the Act protects women from being fired solely because they are pregnant. However, it doesn't necessarily protect pregnant women from being fired if they can no longer perform their normal job duties, such as being unable or unwilling to lift heavy boxes, even if pregnancy is the reason they don't want to lift heavy items. Several states have additional accommodation requirements for pregnant workers to ensure women can keep their jobs if they have restricted lifting limits during pregnancy.
- Nelson and Associates: Manual Lifting – Historical Sources of Current Standards Regarding Acceptable Weights of Lift
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Back Disorders and Injuries
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Materials Handling -- Heavy Lifting
- Washington Department of Labor and Industries: Lifting FAQs
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Applications Manual for the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation
- Time: Should Pregnant Women Be Accommodated in the Workplace?
- National Women's Law Center: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 35 -- The Need to Restore and Reinvigorate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.