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Back Injury Prevention

Back injuries are among the most common workplace injuries, accounting for an estimated one in five on-the-job injuries.  Those injuries cost industries billions of dollars every year, not to mention the pain and suffering the injured workers have to endure.  Here are some keys to preventing back injuries from taking down your workers and your bottom line. 

One False Move

The back is involved in almost every move a worker makes and it only takes one false move to trigger an injury.  For example:

  • Strains can be triggered by overstretching, slouching, and improper lifting.  The strain problem is compounded if an employee is carrying excess body weight – especially around the midsection.
  • Sprains often result from sudden movements or sudden twisting of the body.  Wit a sprain, soft tissues in the back, such as ligaments and muscles, are wrenched or torn, causing swelling and pain.
  • Overflexion, or bending too far forward, is another common back problem that results in increased pressure on the cartlage or the spine.  Damage to the cartlage, or ‘disks’, can cause sweling and pain that can last a long time.
  • Overextension, or bending too far backward, also increases pressure on the spine, resulting in potential injury.

Components of back safety

The most important thing workers need to know about these injuries is that they’re all preventable.  To eliminate back injuries, make sure you understand the three components of back safety – posture, lifting and fitness.

Key #1: POSTURE

Maintaining proper posture while working is the first lesson your employees need to learn about back safety and health.

When workers stand, they should:

  • Keep their head vertical and facing the work
  • Stand straight with ears, shoulders and hips aligned
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and weight in balance

When workers sit, they should:

  • Keep their head vertical and facing the work
  • Sit straight by keeping ears, shoulders and hips aligned
  • Keep thights parallel to the floor, with knees bent about 90 degrees
  • Rest feet flat on the floor or on a footrest

Key #2: SAFE LIFTING

Many back injuries can be traced to improper lifting and carrying.  Your workers need to use good body mechanics every time they lift, carry and unload objects.

When workers lift, they should:

  • Face the load with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Keep heels down and turn feet slightly out
  • Squat by bending at the hips and knees
  • Use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift, not back muscles
  • Maintain the back’s natural curves as they lift by keeping their head up

When workers carry objects, they should:

  • Point their feet in the direction they move and walk at a slow, steady pace
  • Take small steps and turn their body as a single unit to avoid twisting the upper body
  • Hug the load

Key #3: FITNESS

Out-of-shape, overweight employees are more likely to have back injuries than those whose muscles are toned and whose backs don’t have to support extra pounds.  As little as 10 minutes a day of exercises like stomach crunches and knee bends, combined with another 15-20 minutes of walking or some other physical activity, can help employees maintain a healthy weight and toned muscles.

If employees do injure their backs, they can minimize the damage and pain, and get back on their feet sooner by knowing how to treat back problems correctly.  Sudden, extreme pain needs medical treatment.  If an employee is in a lot of pain, don’t fool around.  Try to avoid moving the injured worker and call for medical help right away.

Five ‘musts’ of back safety

Remind workers of these essentials:

  1. Keep your back strong and fit with a healthy lifestyle
  2. Maintain good posture whether you’re standing or sitting
  3. Be aware of your back every time you move
  4. Remember the common causes of back injuries, and avoid awkward movements that can cause back problems
  5. Use good body mechanics when you lift

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