Back injuries are a major cause of missed time – only second to the common cold! The majority of back injuries occur during lifting tasks and these injuries can be very costly for companies in lost productivity and insurance claims. In the short term, a back injury can cause serious discomfort and pain for the employee but in the long term, it can have a devastating effect on the employee’s lifestyle and ability to work. To reduce back injuries in the workplace we should first take a look at some of the major causes:
Insufficient Training: It’s easy to assume that everyone has an intuitive sense of how to lift and carry objects and knows how much they can safely lift by themselves. However, back injuries are extremely common and many people don’t understand the consequences of improper lifting and how they can lift safely. Any workplace that requires employees to lift heavy objects should cover the proper techniques as a part of basic safety training.
Improper Lifting: Starting everyone off with proper safety training is essential, but knowledge and commitment to safe work practices can fade over time. Employees may become complacent in their lifting and develop bad habits that erode their technique and can result in injury. Reinforcement of lifting safety principles is important and supervisors or colleagues should correct employees using improper techniques. Safety reminders should be frequent but also varied so that they do not lose their impact. Consider reminding employees through a mix of email reminders, safety meetings, and workplace safety notices to keep lifting safety top of mind.
Not Appreciating the Risk: If employees are regularly lifting things in the course of their job, they can become desensitized to the risk. This makes them more likely to make mistakes like lifting with poor posture, twisting while lifting, or lifting objects that are too heavy. If an employee has not experienced a back injury before and felt the pain for themselves, they may not realize the debilitating outcomes they are risking with poor lifting technique. Your safety training should explain how back injuries often become a chronic problem that can not only limit their ability to work, but also their ability to do basic tasks like getting out of a chair or playing with their kids. As an employer, you should make sure that workers understand their lifting limit and why they should respect it. It’s also important to schedule work to allow for breaks and create a balanced workday where employees don’t continuously work through physically demanding tasks.
Rushing: Tight deadlines and long work days can cause employees to feel rushed and lifting technique can be compromised as a result. Many injuries occur when employees are under pressure and in a hurry because back strain is the last thing on their minds. Sometimes tight deadlines and workplace stress are unavoidable, but by understanding how that impacts safety and back health, you can try to schedule work appropriately and better support the safety of your workers.
Remember that any type of safety training is only as good as its reinforcement. Regular reminders of proper lifting techniques are critical to prevent employees slipping into bad habits, and everyone should be encouraged to watch and correct unsafe work practices. Some essential Do’s and Don’ts of lift safely include:
- Try an eliminate manual lifting when possible.
- Stay in good physical shape.
- Make sure you have a good grip on any item you lift.
- Test the weight and balance of the item to be lifted.
- Ask for assistance if an item is too heavy or awkward to lift safely.
- Keep the item being lifted close to your body.
- Stand in a stable position and lift mostly by straightening your legs.
- Twist or bend in a sideways direction when lifting.
- Lift or lower an object from an awkward position.
- Lift or lower an object if your arms are extended.
- Try and continue to lift an object if you realize it’s too heavy.
- Lift anything above your shoulders or below your knees.