How to Work Smart and Prevent Back Injuries with Carts, Ramps and Dock Plates

BY: Christina Hansen


Man carrying boxesWhen it comes to lifting and transporting materials on the job, there's always a potential back injury waiting to strike. According to reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other workplace safety advocates, between 20% and 30% of all workplace injuries fall into the musculoskeletal category, and include strains and sprains to the lower back, shoulders, neck, and arms. These injuries alone are responsible for nearly 25% of workers' compensation payouts, and can result in anywhere from days to weeks of lost work for employees.

Luckily, musculoskeletal injuries are also highly preventable with the help of workplace ergonomics training and simple lifting and transport aids like carts, dollies, ramps and dock plates. Used in conjunction with good material handling practices, these tools can not only save time and make tasks easier, but also significantly cut down on workers' comp payouts and the logistics problems that arise from injury-related employee absences. gives you tips on how to increase workplace safety and lighten your load with carts, ramps and dock plates.



Why is the wheel considered to be one of the biggest inventions of all time? Because it makes life, especially the working part of life, so much easier. It lets us move more, faster, with far less effort than it would take to carry things item-by-item between Point A and Point B. And that’s exactly why it should play a major role in any material handling job.

Repeatedly lifting and carrying objects can place a major strain on the back, shoulder and abdominal muscles. In the same way, taking the "easy" route by kicking a load or prodding it along on the floor with your feet,  in order to avoid picking it up, can cause painful and immobilizing groin muscle injuries. Whether you’re transporting boxes, gas canisters or spools of cable, task-specific wheeled carts and dollies are one of the best solutions for moving large quantities or heavy items with speed, ease, and maneuverability.

different type of carts
  • General Equipment Carts: A basic rolling cart that can handle everything from boxes to lengths of pipe and conduit can be an invaluable back-saver when you’re on the job. Get the most for your money by investing in an expandable or modular cart, which will let you customize its size and function for different materials. Look for one with pneumatic wheels, which roll smoothly and help to reduce bouncing and jarring motions when the cart is moved over uneven ground or flooring.
  • Gas Cylinder Dollies: Because of both their heft and smooth, grip-free shape, picking up and carrying metal gas cylinders can range from difficult to impossible, depending on their size and fill level. Rely on wheeled cylinder carts to do all the heavy lifting and transport – you'll not only save your back, but also prevent the type of toxicity and forceful discharge hazards that can occur when a pressurized cylinder is dropped and its valve damaged.
  • Spool Carts: Electrical contractors and anyone else who regularly works with large spools of cable can benefit from rolling spool carts, which allow you to wheel heavy cable reels from place to place, instead of risking injury by attempting to pick or roll them. Spool carts can come in many forms, from those with multiple bars to accommodate and dispense wiring from small spools, to "make-your-own" style carts that consist mainly of a handle and wheels, and attach to the sides of large cable reels to create a complete spool transport solution.
  • Chemical/Cleaning Supply Carts: These multitasking rolling carts are perfect for janitors, custodians and maintenance staff who need to continually transport a variety of chemicals and tools to various locations throughout a facility. In addition to helping eliminate the use of handheld caddies that can fatigue the arms, shoulder and upper back, supply carts also prevent  accidental contact with hazardous  leaking chemicals and solvents, which can potentially occur if containers are carried in the arms and against the body.


curb rampRamps

Whether you're carrying a box a short distance or wheeling a fully-loaded cart across a warehouse, ramps are a vital safety feature that can't be overlooked. Carrying boxes in your arms can easily obstruct your view of permanent floor obstructions like steps, curbs and shallow platforms, leading you to trip when you unexpectedly run into them. If floor elevation changes anywhere workers regularly walk with their arms full, consider installing ramps for a trip-free transition between levels.

Ramps are also a must-have safety measure anywhere carts and dollies may need to be pulled onto or off of a curb, or travel up a few steps. At one time or another, we've all seen people try to wrestle a loaded rolling cart onto or off of a curb, or up a few shallow steps. It may not seem particularly dangerous, but doing so can place a major strain on upper body muscles, and also creates a roll-back hazard for anyone positioned behind or below the cart. Using a ramp to make the transition makes the job easier, and greatly reduces the physical risk to everyone involved.


fixed dock plateDock Plates

Similar to ramps, dock plates span the distance between two disconnected floor surfaces (most commonly, trucks and loading docks) so that materials can be transported across a solid surface, instead of passed across wide gaps. Any time that materials need to cross a gap in flooring, whether they're being carried by hand or rolled on a cart or dolly, it's vital to firmly affix a dock plate between the two surfaces, so that carts can roll smoothly across, and workers have stable footing. Dock plates also greatly reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries from reaching to pass heavy items across a gap.