Back injuries are an extremely common ailment experienced by workers across the nation. Especially for individuals in jobs that require physical labor. According to MEMIC, (a workers’ compensation insurance company) about 20% of injuries in the workplace are back injuries. Additionally, MEMIC says that 33% of the money spent on work-related injuries is related to back issues.
How are back injuries caused?
There are three main factors that contribute to the potential for back injuries. First, the amount of force you place on your back by lifting or moving heavy objects can result in an injury. Secondly, extensive repetition of the same bending or twisting movement can fatigue the muscles and end up causing an injury. Finally, posture is a significant factor; not only in the formulation of back injuries, but also in the prevention of them. Where slouching can lead to injury, proper posture can strengthen your back and prevent it.
Bending and lifting is the most common way back injuries occur. Many different industries require these movements of employees. Boxes need to be stacked, lumber needs to be lifted, and debris needs to be moved. Often times these movements are made with improper form, which leads to injury and chronic pain.
How can back injuries be prevented?
The frequency of back injuries can be significantly decreased through a variety of controls. First, employees need to understand the importance of proper lifting form. Boxes and other objects should be lifted by bending at the knees and using the legs to power the weight upward. Often times, lifting is carried out by bending at the waist, and using the lower back as a hinge to yank the weight off of the ground. This technique can cause injury very quickly as it fatigues the lower back muscles, and the weight of the object stretches the ligaments unnecessarily.
Employers can help employees avoid back injuries by implementing controls to reduce lifting situations. Heavy loads should be hoisted by a lifting device such as a hydraulic lift, or moved along by a conveyor belt. Loads can also be reduced in size and weight to allow workers to lift them with a smaller chance of injury. It is important to keep heights of pallets and shelves at an accessible level as well. Ideally, the heights of shelves and pallets should be between knee and shoulder height. It is easiest to lift loads that are between these parameters. Lifting is more strenuous if it is below the knees or above shoulder height.
Are there other ways to help reduce back injuries?
Employees have a significant role to play in preventing injury as well. Physical fitness is key to avoiding back injuries. Individuals who are in good physical condition have a lower chance of developing back pain or chronic back ailments. Companies can encourage physical fitness by testing employees and identifying those capable of making the movements required. Stretching is another component of physical fitness that can prevent an injury. Employees should stretch before beginning any lifting, twisting, or other movements
Obesity is a growing issue in our society, and consequently in the workplace as well. Obesity in the workplace can contribute to back injuries. Overweight or obese employees may not be able to perform the proper form required for lifting heavy loads, or the cardiovascular endurance to lift repetitively over an entire shift. Improper technique and fatigue both contribute greatly to back injuries. Employers can help maintain employee weight by offering healthy food choices in break areas, encouraging weight loss or maintenance, and making employee health and wellness a priority.
Many jobs require manual labor that requires twisting, bending, and lifting. These movements can be made safely and effectively, without risking a back injury every time they are made. Employers need to be proactive in promoting proper form, physical fitness, and nutrition. Companies also need to provide proper equipment and implement acceptable controls to slash the risk of back injury for workers. These factors all contribute to the high rate of back injuries in the workplace. So, cover your back, and make employee health a priority.