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The Manhole Lifter and Why You Need to Save Your Back

The Manhole Lifter and Why You Need to Save Your Back

Posted by Dr. David J. Silver, B.S., M.S. Ph.D., CIH on Apr 5th 2019

Did you ever try to lift a manhole cover? Not easy was it? Manhole covers are hundreds of pounds and can easily cause great distress on anyone’s back. Let’s explore why that is so and what tools exist so that you can save your back.

Back Pain

For many, back pain is part of the job, or is it? Many occupations involve lifting and often, the worker suffers through the day in pain or just can’t get the job done. If you lift, inevitably you will develop low back strain. The pain happens when you stretch your back ligaments and muscles too far, causing tiny tears in the tissue. The muscles are then weakened, so they may not be able to hold the bones of your spinal column in place correctly. Some causes are physical exertion, bending, crouching, heavy lifting, and not being in prime physical condition. Symptoms include radiating pain, stiffness, difficulty maintaining posture, spasms, and pain lasting for days.

Avoiding Back Pain and the NIOSH Lifting Equation

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed an equation that can help anyone in any industry or personally, reduce the risk of backaches and spinal damage through an equation. This fabulous equation factors in job task variables to determine safe lifting practices and procedures. The equation is useful in determining the maximum acceptable weight that nearly all healthy employees could lift over an 8-hour shift. By inputting variables, a lifting index is calculated to estimate the level of physical stress and risk associated with manual lifting tasks.

Essentially, the lifting equation is a factor of the horizontal location of the object relative to the body, the vertical location of the object relative to the floor, the distance the object is moved vertically, the asymmetry angle or twisting requirement, the frequency and duration of lifting activity, and the coupling or quality of the workers grip on the object. The lifting index is the weight divided by the results of the NIOSH lifting equation.

We encourage you to reference the many articles available on the internet regarding the NIOSH lifting equation.

Back Pain when Lifting Manhole Covers

The results indicated that the conventional steel cover is too heavy for safe manual handling. (Anil Mital, 1994. An ergonomic evaluation of steel and composite access covers. Ergonomics and Engineering Controls Research Laboratory, Industrial Engineering, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH). The steel cover weight not only exceeded the average individual psychophysical lifting capacity of males and females, it also exceeded the average psychophysical lifting capacity of two-member male and female teams. The average spinal compressive force generated in this case exceeded the spinal column strength of most males and females.

Manhole cover injuries were down in 2014 and 2015, but jumped back up in 2016 and 2017 – 20 each year. The range of injuries include smashed fingers, strained backs, foot injuries, and a host of other injuries, with the size and weight of the manhole covers as the key factor. The covers range in weight from just a few pounds to up to 500 lbs., with the average weight running around 110 pounds.

Manhole Cover Lifters

A positive prevention program for reducing the risk of injuries from lifting manhole covers should include mechanical lifters. They are a step forward in preventing back strain and hand injuries.

Manhole and grate lifters exist in many different forms; they are specific to the task, and depending on the design, offer better leverage when compared to others. The goal is to minimize stress and strain on the back and body by using better leverage with the body not at an angle that will increase the risk of damage.

A simple manhole lifter could be useful for lighter covers and stronger backs. These devices make use of a long steel handle providing leverage for the heaviest lids. They provide a better way to grip the manhole cover; however, one must still pull the cover using brute strength.

A solution to moving the cover to the side is a magnetic manhole lifter. They eliminate the use of pry bars and many models are designed to move the manhole cover to a desired location. The dolly allows mobility and can be either aluminum or steel. A storm grate lifting adapter is available for that task as well.

EGas Depot to the Rescue

EGas Depot supplies Allegro manhole and grate lifters in several configurations from simple to magnetic. If you are a utility company or industrial firm, you know that you can reduce your risk of exposure immensely. So order one online today at or call toll tree at 833-264-0730.

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