Avoid Overworking

A young man struggles to carry three oversized boxes.

You overwork when you do more than your body can handle. For example, you can overwork by lifting things that are too heavy, doing the same motion over and over, using bad postures, or working too long without breaks. Overwork leads to exhaustion that doesn’t improve with simply a good night’s sleep.

Staying Safe

Tips on lifting for young workers:

  • You can make it easier on yourself when you pick up heavy or awkward things. If you consider this advice, you’ll be less likely to hurt your back:
    • Can you get help from someone who knows more about the job? That person might know of tools or equipment you can use to help you lift or carry something heavy.
    • Can you get someone to help you pick it up or carry it? That divides the weight between two people, making it easier and safer to lift.
    • If the box or container seems too heavy or awkward for you, talk with your supervisor about other ways of doing that job, or ask about other jobs you could do that do not involve heavy lifting.
    • If the task is making you feel overworked, talk with your supervisor about how to change the task to better suit your capabilities, or ask for a different task so that you can be productive without being fatigued.
    • For more information on lifting jobs and solutions, see NIOSH publications on lifting, such as for grocery store and home center workers.
  • How you position or move your body when you lift something can also make you more or less likely to be hurt. The suggestions below are in order, based on what studies have found.
    Do the following when possible:
    • Keep the item you are lifting close to your body.
    • Avoid lifting off the floor and from overhead.
    • Avoid twisting and bending while lifting.
    • Keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • If your work requires a lot of strength and effort over long periods of time, consider the following tips:
    • Pace yourself so that you avoid being sore the next day.
    • Work on different jobs—some hard, some easy—that use different muscle groups.
    • Ask for more rest breaks.
    • Ask for help.

How employers should help:

  • Give workers time for rest breaks after they do hard, physical work.
  • Give workers different tasks to do, so they don’t repeat the same motions for a long time. (The idea is to keep workers from using the same muscle groups over and over.)
  • Let workers know about common risk factors (bending, reaching, and twisting).
  • For lifting-safety issues, consult a human factors expert or certified ergonomist. That person can apply the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (RNLE) to find the Recommended Weight Limit (RWL) or the Lifting Index (LI) for the lifting jobs in your store.


  • Employees in large home centers, grocery stores, and superstores are more likely to experience overexertion injury than those in smaller stores, such as clothing, shoe, sporting goods, floral, and jewelry stores.
  • Employees in smaller stores, such as those noted above, are less likely to perform heavy lifting on a routine basis. As a result, they may have fewer cases of sprains and strains from lifting, lowering, or carrying items, which can affect the shoulders and lower back.
  • Over the past 4 years, overexertion has been the second leading cause of injury and illness leading to days away from work for all workers, including younger ones (aged 16 through 24).

Find Out More

NIOSH: CDC workplace safety and health topics: work schedules. Shift work and long hours

NSC: Take It Easy: Your Body Will Thank You

OSHA: Young Workers Have Rights

OSHA: Ergonomics: The Study of Work. U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA # 3125. Revised, 2000.

Arndt R [1987]. Work pace, stress, and cumulative trauma disorders. J of Hand Surgery, 12(5):866‒869.


Nightswonger T [2001]. The Costly Problem of Overexertion. EHS Today, June 1.

NIOSH [2007]. Ergonomic guidelines for material handling. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No 2007-131.

Moore B [2015]. Safety talks: prevention of overexertion injuries in the workplace. Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

OSHA [2004]. Guidelines for retail grocery stores. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA Publication No. 3192-05N.