Statistics tell us that 8 out of 10 people experience back problems at some time during their lives. We also know that back injuries affect millions of American workers every year and cost billions.
Overexertion is a leading cause of lost-time injuries. And a significant number of workers in most industrial workplaces and construction sites are at risk. The problem comes when the load being lifted, shifted, carried, pushed, or pulled exceeds the body’s limits. The result can be tearing or stretching of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Overtaxing muscles frequently or for extended periods can cause them to become fatigued and prone to injury. Activities that increase muscle fatigue include:
• Force being exerted during a task
• Repetition of a task
• Awkward body posture during a task
The back—especially the lower back—is the area of the body most often damaged by overexertion. And once workers injure their backs, they are more likely to suffer reinjury, which leads to more pain and suffering for the worker and more lost work time for you (it’s estimated that on average workers lose as many as 7 workdays per year because of back injuries).
Prevention Is the Cure
Preventing back injuries is much easier than repairing them. Five fundamentals can help your employees protect their backs and prevent back injuries
1. Good Posture
Whether a job involves a lot of sitting or hours of standing, maintaining a good neutral posture (the natural “S” shape of the spine) throughout the workday puts less strain on the back and decreases the risk of injury. What are we talking about?
• Sitting straight, with back resting against the back of the chair
• Placing feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
• Adjusting the chair so that the knees are slightly higher than hips
To avoid back strain while standing, employees should stand with:
• Feet shoulder width apart and weight balanced
• Ears, shoulders, and hips aligned
Some people find that putting one foot on a footrest and then alternating feet helps them maintain good posture while standing.
2. Safe Lifting
Improper lifting is probably the most common cause of workplace back injuries. Teach your worker safe body mechanics for lifting:
• Face the load with feet shoulder width apart
• Keep heels down and toes pointed slightly out
• Squat by bending at the hips
• Use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift
• Maintain the backs natural curves while lifting by keeping the head up.
3. Micro breaks
Encourage workers to take frequent micro breaks of 10 to 20 seconds to arch their backs and stretch tired, tense muscles. Whether exerting, sitting, or standing for long periods, micro breaks increase blood flow and decrease the risk of back injury.
4. Healthy weight
Excess weight, especially on the belly, puts lots of extra stress on back muscles. Just by losing a few pounds, overweight workers can substantially reduce their risk of back injuries.
Encourage employees to exercise and keep fit. Exercise improves overall wellness, and is particularly important for reducing back injuries. Strong, well-toned back and stomach muscles allow the back to work hard without injury.