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Preventing Lower Back Injury in the Workplace

Warehouse worker with low back pain holding a boxLower back injury is a leading cause of worker disability. Low back pain affects roughly a quarter of the global population each year, resulting in over 20 million healthy years lost, according to a study by researchers at the University of Sydney. Reducing the instance of lower back injury is a key challenge for employers worldwide. Often, employees ignore the warning signs until the pain becomes too great. Raising awareness of the causes and symptoms of back injury are crucial steps that employers can take. Occupational health and safety training is an important tool for companies to reduce the risk of lower back injury and help reduce the number of workers’ compensation and disability claims.

Causes of Lower Back Injury

Most job-related lower back injuries occur due to repeated microtears in the joints and ligaments of the spine and the muscles of the back. Poor posture when lifting or pulling heavy objects causes pain to accumulate and range of motion to decrease. Twisting, straining or bending while lifting or pulling can cause strain on muscles, ligaments, joints and spinal discs that result in injuries. The seriousness of injuries can vary from mild strain to serious damage that may require hospitalization and surgery, severely restrict the worker’s mobility, and result in temporary or permanent disability. Workers nearing retirement age are more prone to injury, and those working in agriculture have the highest risk among industry sectors.

Reducing the Risk of Low Back Injury

Lifting The BoxWorkplace safety training seminars and back safety training are great tools to educate employees about proper back care on the job. However, each workplace should also evaluate their risks and opportunities to create a low injury work environment. If there are currently no standards in place, a good first step is to observe and analyze employees as they work. Have employees fill out a survey regarding physical difficulties on the job and their experience with low back pain. Measure the weight lifting requirements, the frequency of motion, and distance travelled in each activity. Record video of lifting tasks and evaluate it for concerns. Is the floor too slippery? Are shelves, work stations, and conveyor belts positioned efficiently in relation to one another? Are handles grip-friendly? Once these variables are addressed, managers and employees can develop plans to not only reduce back strain and risk of injury, but also boost efficiency.

There are many ways employees and managers can reduce the risk of low back injury:

  • Use carts or other assistive devices to transport heavy objects.
  • Store heavy objects at waist level to minimize the strain of reaching and bending.
  • Position storage centers as closer to conveyor belts and other work stations.
  • Break up large shipments into smaller units.
  • Favor pushing movements over pulling movements, which can strain the lower back.
  • Avoid twisting motions, which increase the likelihood of injury.
  • Have employees alternate tasks to minimize the burden and allow time for rest.
  • Have two or more employees lift heavy objects.
  • Encourage employees to wear well-cushioned footwear.
  • Employees should avoid standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time.
  • Provide benches, footrests, rails, chairs, and other ways to employees to change position.

Workplace Safety Training for Low Back Injury Prevention

Warehouse supervisor instructing worker on use of fork pallet stacker equipmentIn addition to the tips above, workplace safety training can help protect employees from multiple job-related hazards. Consider hosting safety training seminars that teach the basics of ergonomic movements, avoiding injury, and reporting potential hazards. Many companies now provide employee strength and fitness training. Exercise and proper stretching can improve bone and muscle strength and reduce the risk of overextending the lower back muscles. Lastly, make sure that all employees know how to operate job-specific machinery and equipment.

Occupational health and safety training seminars, such as OSHA10 General Industry or OSHA30 Construction training courses include training on protecting against low back injury. All workers should complete an OSHA safety and health course as part of a comprehensive workplace health and safety policy that helps protect employees and employers from injuries and time lost on the job.

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