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Make Sure You’ve Got Your Employees’ Backs

Originally posted by Chris Kilbourne on the Safetly Daily Advisor website.

With more than 500 work-related back injuries reported every day in U.S. workplaces, it’s no wonder you need to be concerned about preventing employee back injuries.

  • An employee reaches up to a shelf to take down a carton and strains her back.
  • A worker lifts a heavy load by himself when he should have gotten help.
  • An employee who bends a lot on the job ends up with a sore back that keeps her out of work for several days.
  • A worker who stands in one position for long periods complains of an aching back to her supervisor.
  • An employee who sits for long hours at a computer has chronic back problems for which he has had to seek treatment.

Incidents like these are common in workplaces across America—maybe in yours as well. They are a big safety and health problem because:

  • The back is a particularly vulnerable part of the body for injury, since it works so hard and makes so many different movements.
  • Nearly 4 out of 5 adults experience back problems at some point.
  • Strains and other back injuries keep workers off the job longer than the average work injury.
  • Back injuries can cost as much as $10,000 for a single injury. And since once a person has injured his or her back repeat injuries are not unlikely, you can multiply the cost of treatment a few times for some workers.

What to Do

What can workers do to prevent back injuries? Suggest that they take these steps—and check to make sure that they do.

  • Adjust workstations and work surfaces. If the workstation or other work surface is at the proper height, employees are less likely to have to stoop, bend, reach, and be injured.
  • Use mechanical lifting and moving aids, such as pallet jacks or conveyors to minimize the need to lift, carry, or push heavy items.
  • Change position. Sitting or standing still for long periods causes stiffness and muscle tension in the back and can lead to pain and injury.
  • Take breaks. Although you want workers to be productive, you also want them to be safe. When someone’s performing a job that puts strain on the back, they need to take frequent short breaks to relax tense muscles and rest.
  • Watch posture. Poor posture also contributes to back strain and pain. Employees should stand straight with weight evenly distributed on both feet. When sitting, they should keep the back straight and supported by the back of the chair. And when lifting, they should keep the back straight, avoid bending at the waist or twisting, and lift with the legs.
  • Lighten the load. Heavy loads should be divided into lighter ones for lifting and carrying. If they can’t be, then the employee has to use a lifting aid or get help from a co-worker to prevent the risk of back injury.
  • Minimize back stressors. Minimize bending, twisting, and reaching—all of which are prime causes of back injury.

Early Treatment Vital

To minimize pain, shorten recovery time, and prevent chronic back problems, it’s important to catch back injuries early and treat them quickly. This means employees need to recognize the signs of overexertion. If they keep overdoing it when those signs are present, they could end up with a severe injury that will be harder to treat and take longer to heal.

Encourage employees to report and seek treatment for any symptoms such as:

  • Pain when attempting to assume normal posture
  • Decreased mobility
  • Pain when standing or rising from a seated position

The pain might feel like an ache, a sharp pain, a dull pain, or a pain that comes and goes. The back could feel hot and inflamed, unusually tight, unusually weak or fatigued, or tingly. These can all be signs of a back injury that will only get worse if not treated.