Nearly everyone has experienced back pain at one time or another. Thankfully, it is usually caused by a muscle sprain or strain that resolves with some rest.
Here are some facts about back Injuries from the American Chiropractic Association website:
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections.
- Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.
- Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.
Despite being one of the top causes of workplace injuries, OSHA does not have any regulatory standards to deal with back injury prevention. In rare cases, the agency has cited companies for not taking action to deal with back injuries when they have found large numbers of cases reported in an OSHA log. In this type of case, they use the General Duty Clause.
Worker’s Compensation carriers will often work with their insureds to help develop back injury prevention strategies. This might be done routinely in industries where manual lifting is frequent or in response to a number of claims for back-related injuries.
As you can see, the responses are often reactive in nature. In previous blogs you have read our encouragements to be proactive when it comes to safety. The thought cannot be preached enough, because we tend to think in a reactive manner instead. Here’s one very important reason to think proactively when it comes to back injury prevention.
Back injuries are often caused by the accumulation of frequent micro tears caused by misusing our backs in all manner of ways. Poor posture, improper lifting, twisting and overreaching are the major causes. This process starts when we are young and we don’t even notice it until it catches up with us later in life. By that time, the back injury may be very serious leading to a long time away from work, intense and often painful rehabilitation and possibly permanent disability.
For workers, back injuries change their lives forever. Even with the best rehab, the back is never the same. The worker may not be able to return to their job. They may end up disabled to the point where they cannot work at all.
For companies, the loss of an employee to any injury leads to significant direct and indirect costs. The National Safety Council in it’s 2013 Injury Facts publication placed the direct cost of a back strain to be somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. Indirect costs may be two to three times that amount.
The following three steps can be taken to help reduce the potential for back injuries in the workplace:
1. Evaluate the workplace for any work stations and tasks that can be changed through design or work practice changes.This ergonomic analysis may help to eliminate hazards and provide engineering controls where feasible.
2. Train workers on safe lifting and materials-handling techniques.
3. Encourage employees to watch out for each other and to speak up when a fellow employee is lifting incorrectly or breaking other safe handling principles. By encouraging safe behaviors, you can go along way to helping employees to develop better habits.
What has your company done to promote back injury prevention? Feel free to comment with your best practices and other ideas. Thanks.
Rich Galutia CSP specializes in the areas of employee safety (OSHA), trucking compliance (FMCSA) and animal feed safety (FDA).