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Second Quarter 2013

Bending Over Backwards to Reduce Spinal Injuries
By: Lindsey Yowell

Preventing back injuries in the workplace is a consistent safety battle.  This is true for all work environments, whether a desk job, factory line, construction activity, or truck driving.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year.  Nearly one-fourth of all compensation indemnity claims involve this type of injury, costing the industry billions of dollars in addition to the physical pain suffered by employees.

Though there has been no proven method to completely eliminate back injuries, there are many recommendations to aid in prevention.  Administrative controls focus on modifications to the work area, staffing, schedules, or procedures in order to reduce the employee exposure.  Some examples of administrative controls may be:

  • Train employees to utilize lifting techniques that place minimum stress on the lower back.
  • Test the strength of employees so that assignments may be placed appropriately based on capabilities.
  • Implement a physical conditioning or strengthening program to reduce the risk of muscle strain.
  • Take frequent breaks when required to sit, stand, or engage in repetitive motion for a long period of time.

Often, engineering controls are desired as well.  Some examples of ways to reduce the stress on the back by redesigning a job are:

  • Adjust the height of the work area to prevent reaching below the knee or above the shoulder.
  • If lifting, reduce the size or weight of the object being lifted.
  • Install mechanical aids such as conveyors or pneumatic lifts to assist in the material handling process.
  • Assure that chair is positioned so that the thighs are parallel to the floor and feet rest flat and firmly on the floor.
  •  A slight lean between 5-15 degrees will help to reduce the stress on the spine and muscles.

Statistics show that after you have experienced one back injury, you are much more likely to have a reoccurrence at some point in your lifetime.  As previously mentioned, there has yet to be a proven method discovered to completely fix this on-going battle with back injuries, but if these simple steps are followed, it may help prevent one from occurring to begin with.

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