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Don’t Belt Your Employees

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Back injuries are among the most common workplace injuries, accounting for an estimated one in five on-the-job injuries. Those injuries cost U.S. industry billions of dollars every year, not to mention the pain and suffering the injured workers have to endure.

One of the most common means that employers use to address this problem is to mandate use of “back support belts”. The two biggest problems with this solution are the employer expense ($15-$20 each on average), and the misinformed belief that they actually prevent back injury. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, employers that rely on back belts to prevent injury should be aware that there is no scientific evidence supporting their use. NIOSH goes on to state:

“As a result of the NIOSH review, the Institute is concerned with the potentially harmful effects associated with a false sense of security that may accompany back belt use. There is some research showing that workers believe they can lift more when wearing a back belt. If workers falsely believe they are protected, they may subject themselves to even greater risk by lifting more weight than they would have without a belt.

Here are some keys to preventing back injuries from taking down your workers – and your bottom line.

One False Move
The back is involved in almost every move a worker makes, and it only takes one false move to trigger an injury. For example:

  • Strains can be triggered by overstretching, slouching, and improper lifting. The strain problem is compounded if an employee is carrying excess body weight-especially around the midsection.
  • Sprains often result from sudden movements or sudden twisting of the body. With a sprain, soft tissues in the back, such as ligaments and muscles, are wrenched or torn, causing swelling and pain.
  • Overflexion, or bending too far forward, is another common back problem that results in increased pressure on the cartilage of the spine. Damage to the cartilage, or “disks,” can cause swelling and pain that can last a long time.
  • Overextension, or bending too far backward, also increases pressure on the spine, resulting in potential injury.

The most important thing your employees need to know about these injuries is that they’re all preventable. To eliminate back injuries among your workers, make sure they understand the three components of back safety – posture, lifting, and fitness.

Key #1: Posture
Maintaining proper posture while working is the first lesson your employees need to learn about back safety and health.

When workers stand, they should:

  • Keep their head vertical and facing the work.
  • Stand straight with ears, shoulders, and hips aligned.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and weight in balance.

It also helps to elevate one foot on a footrest, and switch feet from time to time. So providing simple footrests for those who want to use them can also help prevent back problems. And for workers who have to stand for long periods while working, it’s a good idea to provide antifatigue or padded mats for them to stand on as well.

When workers sit, they should:

  • Keep their head vertical and facing the work.
  • Sit straight by keeping ears, shoulders, and hips aligned.
  • Keep thighs parallel to the floor, with knees bent about 90 degrees.
  • Rest feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

Also ensure that your workers who sit most of the day have comfortable, adjustable chairs with a firm backrest. It’s a good idea to provide lumbar support pillows for those who need extra lower back support.

Key #2: Safe Lifting
Many back injuries can be traced to improper lifting and carrying. Your workers need to use good body mechanics every time they lift, carry, and unload objects.

When workers lift, they should:

  • Face the load with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep heels down and turn feet slightly out.
  • Squat by bending at the hips and knees.
  • Use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift – not back muscles.
  • Maintain the back’s natural curves as they lift by keeping their head up.

When workers carry objects, they should:

  • Point their feet in the direction they move and walk at a slow, steady pace.
  • Take small steps and turn their body as a single unit to avoid twisting the upper body.
  • Hug the load. When they set down a load, employees should reverse the lifting process, making sure to bend the knees as they lower the load and letting their leg and stomach muscles bear the weight.

Key #3: Fitness
Out-of-shape, overweight employees are more likely to have back injuries than those whose muscles are toned and whose backs don’t have to support extra pounds. As little as 10 minutes a day of exercises like stomach crunches and knee bends, combined with another 15 or 20 minutes of walking or some other physical activity, can help employees maintain a healthy weight and toned muscles.

If employees do injure their backs, they can minimize the damage and pain, and get back on their feet sooner by knowing how to treat back problems correctly.
Sudden, extreme pain needs medical treatment. If an employee is in a lot of pain, don’t fool around. Try to avoid moving the injured worker, and call for medical help right away. Some back injuries can be serious.
For lesser injuries and everyday backaches, these remedies are recommended:
  • Cold packs can be applied for 15 to 20 minutes for the first 24 to 48 hours after a minor back injury.
  • Heating pads are recommended for symptoms after 48 hours.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used for a few days to take care of the pain. But remind employees to read the label on the bottle and take only the recommended dosage.
  • Rest can help by giving the injured muscles and other tissues time to heal.
Five ‘Musts’ of Back Safety
Remind workers of these essentials:
  1. Keep your back strong and fit with a healthy lifestyle.
  2. Maintain good posture whether you’re standing or sitting.
  3. Be aware of your back every time you move.
  4. Remember the common causes of back injuries, and avoid awkward movements that can cause back problems.
  5. Use good body mechanics when you lift.

Now that you have a handle on what information to convey to your workers about maintaining back health, the question becomes how best to convey it. Central Florida Safety Academy can help you get the message out to your staff with our online ergonomic training courses. If your business is in the Central Florida area, we can come to you with a class custom made for your work environment. Contact us today for more information.

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