Eight out of 10 people experience back problems at some time during their lives – and back injuries affect millions of American workers every year, costing businesses billions.
Overexertion is a leading cause of lost-time injuries, putting a significant number of workers in most industrial workplaces and construction sites at risk. When a load being lifted, shifted, carried, pushed, or pulled exceeds the body’s limits, the result can be torn or stretched 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 while performing a task include: exertion, repetition, and awkward body posture.
The back – especially the lower back – is the area of the body most often damaged by overexertion. Once workers injure their backs, they’re more likely to suffer re-injury, which leads to more pain and suffering for the worker and more lost work time for the business (it’s estimated that on average workers lose as many as seven workdays per year because of back injuries).
Preventing back injuries is far easier than repairing them. Stressing these five fundamentals can help your employees protect themselves and reduce 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. This means sitting straight, with back resting against the back of the chair, placing feet flat on the floor or on a footrest, and adjusting the chair so that the knees are slightly higher than hips.
To avoid back strain while standing, employees should stand with their feet shoulder width apart and weight balanced and arms, 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. Have them face the load with feet shoulder width apart, keep their heels down and toes pointed slightly out, squat by bending at the hips, use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift, and maintain the back’s 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 the person is 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 reduce their risk of back injuries substantially.
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.