Back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace and cost the nation an estimated 20 to 50 billion dollars per year. Watch your back! Abusing it can cause painful and even permanent injuries. Your back can slowly get worse or can suddenly “go out.” Either way, the results are the same—much pain, and you are off work! Remember, Safety is 24/7, so back injuries are more than a ‘work topic.”
What are some common causes of back injuries?
- Lifting materials that are too heavy or unstable
- Lifting objects to or from awkward locations (for example, placing overhead or lifting from the ground)
- Repetitive twisting, bending, reaching overhead, or lifting
- Working for long periods in a bent over or strained position
- Tripping over debris.
- Wearing tool belts that are too heavy
- Lifting or doing any physical labor when you have not "warmed up."
How can you avoid back injuries on the job?
The best way is to plan the job to reduce the need for lifting, twisting, bending, or reaching overhead. Change how the job is done, or change the tools you use. Here are some examples.
- Store materials off the ground, so you do not have to bend so much to lift.
- Store materials where there is space to lift them safely, without reaching or twisting.
- Place materials delivered close to where they will be used.
- Split up large loads into smaller, lighter loads.
- Change the setup of the job. (Perhaps adjust the angle and height of work surfaces.)
- Use a manual lifting or carrying device (like a dolly, hand truck, pry bar, or hook).
- Use a mechanical lifting device (like a forklift, hoist, crane, or block and tackle).
- Use tools that minimize bending and reaching (like tools with longer handles).
- Make sure walkways are kept clear to allow the use of material handling devices like carts and dollies.
How do you lift a heavy object safely?
- Face the object. Place one foot behind the object and the other foot beside it.
- Bend your knees but keep your back straight. Grip the object firmly with both hands.
- Bring the object close to your body. Keep your chin, elbows, and arms tucked in tight. Keep your body weight directly over your feet.
- Lift with your legs.
- Do the same process in reverse when you set the object down.
- Avoid any twisting motions.
What about back support belts? Are they a good way to protect yourself?
Most research says that back belts will not protect you from back injuries.
- They can give you a false sense of security, so you try to lift too much weight.
- Leaving the belt tightened for long periods can increase your chances of being injured when you have to lift without the belt.
- People who wear belts have more upper back injuries.
- Belts can be hazardous for people with high blood pressure.
- A belt should never be a substitute for designing the job to minimize manual material handling. Instead of a belt, use mechanical lifting when possible. If you must lift manually, proper lifting techniques protect you better than a belt
What should be included in a written Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) for back and lifting hazards?
- The company will inspect the job site for all health and safety hazards, including back and lifting hazards.
- We will take steps to reduce any hazards, where feasible.
- We will investigate accidents that cause back injury.
- We will provide needed safety equipment, like manual and mechanical lifting devices.
- We will maintain safety equipment in good condition, and keep it close to the work being done.
- We will give you training.
Our backs are something we take for granted until they hurt. As simple as the topic may seem, back injuries are at the top of workers' compensation claims. You only have one back, so it is important to take care of it. Be well and be safe.