Back injuries can be devastating to employees who suffer them — and a few best practices can prevent these problems. What should your team members learn from training?
Back injuries are both relatively common and potentially devastating. In many kinds of workplaces, preventing these incidents from occurring comes down to a blend of factors, from setting up the work environment in ergonomically friendly ways to investing in appropriate training. Many of the day-to-day activities performed by workers could be harmful if done in an incorrect manner. As a workplace leader, it’s up to you to make sure your team is staying safe.
What OSHA Says About Back Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guide to back health in the workplace explains how this category of trauma can be broken down into two main types. Some back injuries build in intensity over time, due to an individual performing a repetitive action. Other back disorders are exacerbated by a single event, usually when an employee lifts a load in an improper way, or tries to pick up something too heavy. Even these acute issues typically involve gradual weakening over time before the inciting injury.
OSHA notes that back injuries are an important and costly problem to address in the workplace, despite the fact these traumas don’t typically lead to deaths. Back injuries are a major cause of suffering and disability for workers, as well as financial loss for their employers. Since the risk of back injury is greater among older employees, an aging workforce has made these problems more important to tackle than ever before.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Federal Occupational Health agency indicated back injuries are responsible for nearly one-fifth of all workplace injuries and illnesses. Taking that much productivity out of the workforce comes with a high price tag for employers: Between $20 and $50 billion is lost every year due to workers who have suffered back trauma.
What leads to back disorders? OSHA notes there are several contributing factors, from stressful positioning, poor posture and bad ergonomic mechanics to single actions such as bending, twisting or reaching while lifting an object. Employees who try to lift objects on slippery floors or work while fatigued are at added risk of injury, as are those whose work areas are poorly designed or who haven’t maintained physical fitness. HHS explained how people who perform strengthening exercises and always display good form when lifting and carrying objects may be sparing themselves back stress. Formalizing these practices through policies and training is important.
How to Prevent Back Injuries
The first step in preventing back trauma in the workplace is to create an environment that promotes ergonomically sound practices. OSHA recommends companies should strive to reduce the amount of weight employees have to carry at any time, as well as the motion required. Platforms and conveyors carrying objects should be set at appropriate heights so workers are not constantly reaching up or bending down. When there is equipment in place to help handle heavy loads, it should be designed for easy use while the employee is standing upright.
Workstations and work benches can cause back injuries over time if they are set at the wrong height. Whether employees do their jobs standing or seated, they should be able to accomplish their tasks while in comfortable positions — fully upright or with their weight supported. Generally, facility operators seeking to make their spaces more ergonomically suitable for employees should bring things closer to employees’ grasp, cutting down on reaching, twisting and straining.
When setting roles and duties, employees can be rotated on and off intense tasks, given hourly breaks to recuperate, or teamed up so two people lift heavy loads. Leaders should also give thought to whether there are appropriate chairs, stools, footrests, mats and more in place.
OSHA’s specifications for back safety training programs state employees should learn multiple aspects of prevention, from the principles of safe movement to the procedures and methods used to report injuries before they reach critical levels. In addition to a general overview of back care, workers should be familiar with specific practices for their duties. Depending on the specific tasks associated with a role, from heavy lifting in a warehouse to sitting at a workstation, there will be unique best practices to learn.
Types of Back Injury Prevention Training
Picking the right back training program for a workplace involves matching the company’s needs. Some roles don’t involve lifting, while for others that is the primary injury risk factor. Different workplaces may also have different best practices regarding similar tasks. Construction site supervisors can opt for different safe lifting training than industrial facility operators, for example.
A modern, video-based approach to training can be a quick and effective way to get everyone up to speed on back safety. When training is delivered digitally, a company does not have to invest the time or budget required for an in-person session, and it’s simple to teach a new employee during orientation. You can take action against a very common category of workplace harm with this training.