How to Prevent Back Injuries at Work

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: Every year, thousands of individuals across the United States suffer from back injuries at work that often result in chronic pain. Find out the key risk factors for a back injury, and learn what loss control efforts employers can implement to help prevent them.

Preventing Back injuries at Work

Millions of Americans suffer from back pain that impacts their daily lives. In fact, this type of chronic pain is estimated to cause almost $300 billion in lost productivity every year, numerous days out of work and around $80 billion in lost wages. It’s estimated that up to 80% of the U.S. population will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

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Back pain can come in many different forms. From a dull ache to a sharp, piercing jab, this pain can make it difficult to focus on work and the task at hand. Employees in various industries can be more susceptible to suffering back pain, such as those in construction or healthcare, but even individuals sitting at a desk all day may experience it at some point.

Key Risk Factors for a Back Injury in the Workplace

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 128,000 back injuries were reported in 2020 among all industries. Back injuries are most often caused by:
  • Poor posture 
  • Diminished flexibility due to aging
  • Pushing, pulling, lifting and moving objects
  • Repeated lifting of awkward or heavy items
  • Poor job station design
  • Excessive reaching or twisting
  • Bending when lifting
  • Bent posture when standing still
  • Sitting in vibrating places such as a moving vehicle
  • Lifting with forceful motions
  • Utilizing improper lifting techniques
Fatigue, the use of vibrating or pneumatic tools, and the escalated use of assembly line practices, including increasing the line speed, are also known to contribute to back injuries in the workplace. Sitting at a desk for prolonged hours can also take a toll on an employee’s back. Regardless of how the injury occurred, back pain is often considered one of the worst types of pain, as finding relief can be extremely challenging. It can impact an individual’s ability to walk, stand, sit and even lie down and can lead to various other issues, such as migraines.

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Back Injuries?

Workers’ compensation will often cover back injuries caused by an incident that occurred while the employee was on the job, or cumulative injuries caused by trauma over time. However, it can be difficult to prove when the injury was sustained and if it actually happened during work hours, especially those that develop over time rather than in an accident that took place on a job site.

Back Injury Prevention Tips: Latest Advances and Challenges

prevent back pain injuries in the workplace
Some lifestyle factors such as the employee’s age, obesity and overall physical health may also contribute to an increased risk for a back injury at work. However, there are some things employers can do to help reduce the risk of employees suffering back injuries at the workplace.

Identify ways to eliminate hazards

Review tasks and communicate with workers to identify bending, lifting and other hazards that may cause back injuries and other cumulative trauma disorders. Then, identify ways to modify them to minimize or eliminate the hazards. Modifications can include:
  • Reducing the weight of the items to be lifted
  • Storing items in bins that tilt, so workers do not have to bend
  • Avoiding storing items on the floor and instead store them at knee or shoulder height for easier lifting
Consider offering tools that can aid workers, such as exoskeletons and exosuits and other assistive technologies.

Teach employees to pay attention to their posture

Employees who sit at a desk all day can also be a risk for back injuries. They should avoid slouching in their chairs, sit with both feet flat on the ground, and ensure their computer screens are directly in front of them so they do not have to crane their necks up or down. They should also get up frequently and move around, do some light stretches and give their backs a little break.

Provide training in proper lifting techniques

Train workers who must lift and carry heavy objects in safe lifting practices. These techniques include bending from the knee to get close to the item, engaging the core, and using the leg muscles to support the body to stand up. Hold the item close to the body and do not twist while lifting. Two workers should share the task of lifting especially heavy or awkward objects.

Schedule frequent breaks from repetitive movements and tasks

Make sure no one employee works an entire shift doing a task that requires the same movement repeatedly. Schedule tasks among workers to give everyone a break or modify the task to reduce the strain on the body. Employers can even provide lift-assist tools for workers who must lift items repetitively as part of their daily duties.

Offer ergonomic workstations

Workstations should be designed to minimize bending, twisting, reaching and pulling. Provide adjustable chairs or stools and arrange workstations so that workers may change their position frequently. For employees who stand in place for long periods of time, provide floor mats, footrests or rails so they may place a foot to change position and allow their backs some rest.

Analyze prior back injury reports

Reviewing past back injury reports can help employers determine the root causes of the injury. For example, perhaps the worker wasn’t properly trained in safe lifting techniques or they carried a heavy item farther than they were supposed to due to a load being delivered to the wrong dock. Or, maybe the employee was simply too embarrassed to ask for assistance. Analyzing back injury reports can allow the employer to take corrective actions and ultimately determine the effectiveness of those prevention efforts, allowing them to modify further as needed.

Loss Control Services from AmTrust

The Loss Control department at AmTrust can help your business assess the conditions, practices and processes of the workplace to help identify common hazards facing workers. It’s our goal to provide the right safety resources and commercial property safeguards to ensure your small business thrives. Contact us today to learn more.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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