AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Custodians, Maintenance Workers and Groundskeepers


Heavy work and lifting are a way of life for many custodial workers, maintenance workers and groundskeepers. Custodial workers and cleaners often push and pull furniture and heavy equipment and move heavy boxes. Women custodial workers often are injured because they use heavy equipment, such as buffers, that were designed for men. Groundskeepers lift heavy bags of fertilizer, soil and salt. Staff members often ride on tractors and mowers that vibrate the spine and musculoskeletal system. Twisting, bending and/or lifting while twisting are common movements that strain the musculoskeletal system. These daily activities often are performed several times in one day. Several months or years of these activities can spell trouble for the back, arms and shoulders. Most custodians, maintenance workers and groundskeepers learn to live with chronic lower back pain. Many tell horror stories of damaged shoulders and arms that require surgery and rehabilitation.

The list of injuries sustained by these workers often includes:

  • Muscle strain
  • Ligament and tendon injuries
  • Spinal disk degeneration
  • Back muscle strains
  • Rotator cuff injuries (shoulder injuries)
  • Tennis elbow



  • Do not overexert yourself. Test the object you're about to lift to see if the load is manageable. If the load is too heavy, get help.
  • Do not jerk or speed up. Lift in a smooth, controlled manner.
  • Bring objects as close to your body as possible.
  • Avoid lifting heavy items off the floor; when you must do so, get as close to the object as possible and pull the object and/or tilt it towards you before lifting.
  • Use carts and hydraulic lifting devices when available.
  • Avoid lifting and twisting at the same time; pick up the load and turn and take a step instead of turning the upper body when unloading heavy items. Pick up the load first, then turn and take a step, instead of turning the upper body.
  • Avoid carrying heavy items up and down stairs; you may be unable to grab the rail if you misstep.
  • Don’t rely on back belts to protect your back. Research indicates that back belts may give workers a false sense of security that makes them lift more and increase the risk of a back injury. Back belts actually put more force on the lower back during a lift.
  • If possible, arrange your work area so that heavier items are placed on shelves at waist level; lighter items can be stored overhead and at floor level.

The AFT-PSRP Department can provide further information on ergonomics and preventive programs through the AFT-PSRP Occupational Safety and Health Program at (800) 238-1133, extension 5674.