Back pain is one of the most common reasons employees miss work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by the common cold. According to Labor Bureau statistics, more than a million workers each year will suffer back injury; this is roughly 8 out of every 10 adults. Per injury cost averages $50,000, and it is estimated that $30 billion is paid to providers according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Causes of Back Injury
Back injury can be caused by cumulative stress and strain to the back through static loading or through repetitive material handling involving lifting and carrying. Some of the most common activities resulting in back injury include repetitive heavy lifting, lifting and twisting such as when digging with a shovel, reaching and lifting, and sitting in a static position for long periods of time.
The best way to prevent back injuries is to develop habits that reduce the strain placed on the back. There are several ways to minimize or reduce the risk of back injury. Whenever possible, avoid storing items at floor level. Lifting from floor level involves more back muscles and increases the risk of injury. Providing a work surface or waist-to-shoulder-height shelving will eliminate the need to bend and lift. Raise or lower shelving to place items between the waist and shoulder level. Place heavier items at waist level and lighter items higher. Reduce the amount of lifting and carrying with the aid of hand carts and dollies. When using carts, push rather than pull since more stress is placed on your back by pulling. Know the weight of the item being lifted. Use two people to lift heavier or awkwardly shaped items.
Proper Lifting Techniques
If it is necessary to lift items from floor level or lower-than-waist height, follow these steps.
1. Know your path of travel. Plan your path to make sure it is clear and free of trip and fall hazards.
2. Before lifting, make sure you have a balanced stance with feet shoulder-width apart.
3. Squat down, bending at your knees while keeping your back straight. Place your torso as close to the load as possible.
4. Secure the load so that you will not have to switch your grip while carrying.
5. Using your legs, lift the load while keeping your stomach muscles taut and keeping the load as close as possible.
6. When changing direction, turn your feet to the direction you want to go and then turn your whole body. Avoid twisting at the waist to change direction.
7. When ready to set down the load, use these same procedures in reverse.
Remember, back injuries can be life-altering. Don’t let that happen to you. By using sound lifting techniques and a little planning, you can work effectively and remain injury-free. Remember, think before you lift.
Paul Sleeter, ARM
Loss Control Representative