According to federal government statistics, back ailments account for one in five workplace injuries and illnesses –and cost businesses up to $50 billion a year. Because these numbers are so high, it’s vital to help workers avoid back injuries by keeping the 400 muscles, 1,000 tendons, 31 pairs of nerves, and 33 vertebrae of their backs pain-free and in good working order 24/7.
Away from the Job
Remind employees that moderate exercise, including gentle stretches of the legs and back and toning the stomach muscles, are important in keeping their backs free of pain. However, warn them not to strain their backs trying to stay in shape, especially if they’re just starting an exercise regimen.
Stress the need for a balanced diet to prevent weight gain, especially around the middle. A too-soft mattress can cause back pain, as can sleeping on the stomach (the best position is lying on the side with a small pillow between the knees). Lying on the back is OK, too, with a pillow under the knees.
Remind workers about safe lifting techniques at home. Because children can be heavy, adults need to bend their knees when picking up kids. This also applies when lifting a garage door, grocery bags, trash, or doing any other household lifting chores. When workers drive, advise them to sit with their backs against the seat, legs bent, and with knees higher than the seat.
On the Job
Warn workers not to lift loads that are too heavy. Make sure they consider the number of times they have to lift similar loads. Although they might be fine lifting 30 or 40 pounds once or twice, lifting this weight all day can hurt their backs. If workers have to lift all day, the maximum weight should be about 14 pounds. They should also consider how far away from their bodies they have to reach to lift an object. For example, a worker who lifts parts over a workbench to put them on a conveyor two feet away might be able to lift only a five-pound load without back damage.
In some cases, employees should use material-handling equipment. In other cases, they might need to ask a co-worker to help. Let workers know that if they don’t get help from a fellow employee today for the five minutes it takes to lift or move a load, the co-worker might end up doing their entire job for the five days that they were out with a strained back!