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February 25, 2013
Trainer's handbook: Back injuries don't have to keep your employees laid up; Train them to control their risk

Back injuries are among the most common types of injuries: nearly four out of five adults will experience a back injury at some point in their lives. Back injuries are also expensive, costing as much as $100,000 for a single injury, and time-consuming, keeping workers off the job for longer than the average work-related injury.

Preventing back injuries in your workplace is one of the most effective cost-control and productivity-enhancing efforts you can undertake. Training workers in back safety is an important part of that effort.

Background on back injury prevention

Who should be trained? A good candidate for training is any employee that performs a job, process, or operation in which more than one employee has suffered a work-related repetitive motion injury (RMI), such as a back injury.

Why train workers in back injury prevention? Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), a category that includes back injuries, account for more than half of American employers' spending on all work-related injuries and illnesses. Preventing back injuries can improve productivity and minimize these losses.

Practice tip

Back injuries can also be caused by a single traumatic incident like a slip-and-fall. To prevent this type of injury, keep work areas free of hazards, such as slick or cluttered floors.

Basics of back injury prevention

Instructions to Trainer: If job tasks in your workplace are known to contribute to back injuries, be sure to go over the preventive measures you have put in place to address them. If you have mechanical aids in your workplace, explain them thoroughly.

When your back hurts, do you think you're just getting older? That's probably not the cause of the problem—it's likely an injury. Do you also think that your back will "always hurt" now? That's also not likely?? percent of back injuries fully heal in 13 weeks if appropriately treated.

Here's how to know whether you're at risk of back injuries, prevent back injuries, and recognize back injuries before they become disabling.

Causes of back injuries

If any of these risk factors are part of your job—or your recreational activities, or your chore list at home—you could be putting yourself at risk of a back injury:

  • Reaching while lifting

  • Staying in one position for long periods of time or staying in a bent posture

  • Repetitive lifting of awkward items, equipment, or people (as in healthcare or childcare facilities)

  • Twisting while lifting

  • Bending while lifting

  • Heavy lifting

  • Lifting with forceful movement

  • Whole-body vibration, such as that experienced by lift truck drivers and delivery drivers

Preventing back injuries

To avoid injuring your back in the first place, use these back safety techniques:

  • Adjust your workstation to fit. If your workstation and chair are at the proper height, you are less likely to be injured.

  • Use mechanical aids. Mechanical aids, such as pallet jacks or conveyor belts, minimize the need to reach, lift, or move heavy items.

  • Change your position. Don't sit or stand in one position for long periods of time without alternating your position.

  • Take your breaks. Breaks allow your soft tissues to rest, which is important for preventing injury.

  • Watch your posture. Keep your back straight. When lifting, both keep your back straight and lift with your legs.

  • Lighten your load. Any time you can break a heavy load into lighter ones, do so. Don't lift heavier loads by yourself—use a mechanical aid or team lift the item with a coworker.

  • Minimize back stressors. When you must lift something, try to avoid bending at the waist, twisting your back, or reaching to lift an object or put it down.

Recognizing back injuries

It's important to catch a back injury early and treat it quickly. You must know how to recognize when you've overdone it—because if you keep overdoing it, you could end up with a serious injury. If you notice any of these symptoms, see a doctor:

  • Pain when attempting to assume normal posture

  • Decreased mobility

  • Pain when standing or rising from a seated position

The pain may feel like an ache, a sharp pain, a dull pain, or a pain that comes and goes. You might notice that your back feels hot or inflamed, unusually tight, unusually weak or fatigued, or tingly. These can all be signs of a problem that will only get worse if it is not treated.

Conclusion

Back injuries don't have to be disabling. Protecting your back to prevent injury—and recognizing an injury before it becomes serious—can minimize the time you spend in pain and off the job.

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