Preventing workplace back injuries
Back injuries can be debilitating for employees and costly for companies – so what are the best ways to counter and prevent them?
Prominence of back injuries across all industries
When back injuries strike, they can take workers away from their duties, leading to a loss of productivity at the businesses that employ them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 data, the most recent available, over the course of 2015 there were 191,450 nonfatal employee back injuries serious enough to make workers miss time at their jobs. That is a significant fraction of the 1,153,490 such injuries logged in total.
The median number of days missed for a back injury in 2015 came in at seven, but there were a significant number of cases where workers were out for far longer. A total of 50,910 back injuries caused professionals to miss 31 or more days of work. Between lost productivity and potential worker’s compensation, it’s clear how such a serious problem could hurt a company – and that’s to say nothing of the intense physical pain these ailments can cause the people who suffer them.
OSHA’s take on back health
What does the Occupational Safety and Health Association have to say about keeping back injuries out of the workplace? OSHA prefaces its rules on preventing these problems by warning industry leaders to take them seriously. Because back problems typically cannot kill people the way workplace falls or fires can, they can go overlooked. However, between one-off injuries and issues that accumulate over the course of years, these disorders can cause long-term pain and make their sufferers unable to work for long periods of time.
The main elimination and prevention steps invoked by OSHA involve changing practices and tasks to ensure risk factors don’t exist. This is the preferred method of back issue mitigation: If companies can change their workplaces and ensure heavy or repetitive lifting motions aren’t necessary, they can seriously reduce the chances of their workers hurting themselves. This kind of preparation has to do with planners and supervisors rather than the employees performing manual work.
Training and preparation ideas
When it comes to training and preparation to reduce the risk of a back injury, OSHA specifies a few areas to focus on: Companies can prepare their workers by teaching them how to recognize and avoid danger, as well as what to do when they encounter these situations.
In some cases, when it’s impossible for employees to avoid heavy lifting in a daily workload, they can rotate employees between activities that use certain back muscles and other tasks. Furthermore, when a supervisor can have two people perform a single back-intensive task together, it can reduce the risk of either one of them suffering an injury working on the job alone.
On the subject of protective equipment such as support belts, it’s up to companies to make their own policies. As OSHA clarified in a letter to employers, the agency neither endorses nor forbids the use of back belts, and underlined the point that it cannot officially endorse the items as effective methods of injury prevention. By personal preference, some employees may be interested in using this kind of equipment.
“Good practices when working with heavy objects are relevant in many different industries.”
Employers have a range of training methods that will help inform employees of the best safety protocols for their particular responsibilities. For example, some courses are solely focused on lifting. Good practices when working with heavy objects that have to be lifted and carried are relevant in many different industries, whenever a workplace can’t be redesigned to remove this activity.
Other courses can focus on exercise protocols that will keep bodies strong and prepare employees to avoid potential problems, or expand beyond the back to include neck safety and protection. Still more offerings focus on specific procedures to be followed in the construction industry. On a job site, there may be many heavy loads to carry, and no way to cut this responsibility out of day-to-day operations.
Leaders can inspect the variety of courses available and decide on the ones that best protect their workers from danger. The risk of long-term harm that comes with back injuries is too great to ignore, and these educational materials are highly relevant to workplaces that are prone to the related risks.