Addressing Back Pain Factors
Back pain is referred to as one of the most common reasons for missed work and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also the third most common reason for seeing a doctor, after skin and joint disorders. In other words, back pain is likely to be visible in every workplace. What may not be obvious, is all the potential causes of back pain. Back pain can be caused by poor lifting techniques, poor posture, psychological stress, or various internal organ diseases. It’s highly beneficial for the workplace to prevent back pain as much as possible; prevention will increase productivity, efficiency, and the duration of time an employee can spend with the company. It’s important as a supervisor that you take the steps necessary for reducing back pain on the job.
Be a Better Supervisor
Poor Lifting Technique
It can never be repeated too many times about the importance of proper lifting technique. Poor lifting technique often feels natural, but it strains the lower back. By teaching employees to lift with the legs, you can proactively reduce back pain. For more ideas on this method, refer to our Workplan on preventing back pain.
Related to poor lifting technique, poor posture plays a significant role in day-to-day back pain causes. Examples include bending over, hunching, slouching, and leaning. Spines have a natural “S” like curve to them where they are the strongest and healthiest. Flat backs and “C” like curves produce unnecessary strain on the lower back muscles, resulting in back pain either over time or immediately. Watch your employees for a day and it’s likely you will see bending over to pick something up, slouching while in a chair, or hunching over while walking with their hands in their pockets. It’s difficult to correct a bad habit, but you do have some means of encouraging proper posture.
Teaching employees about proper posture and regularly refreshing them on the importance of it reminds them to sit and stand upright every day. You can’t force someone to change, but you can coax them into thinking they should (the person writing this may have even switched their chair midway through). Talking about the suffering involved in back pain and using things like posters around the workplace will do lots to improve workforce back strength.
Psychological stress is often unexpected to cause physical pain, but unfortunately that assumption is misplaced. Increasingly, studies have shown that stress causes muscles to tense up, because it is natural for the human body to ready for running away or fighting under stressful situations. To learn more about why this happens, look up Flight or Fight responses. When you combine this unconscious reaction with activities that engage the back, this will increase strain.
There are likely limits to how much psychological stress you can reduce in the workplace, especially if the stress comes from home or is personal. Nonetheless, the way you engage with employees can reduce workplace stress. Encouraging breaks and just being kind can create a workplace that employees feel more welcomed in. Often, we are skeptical of emotional engagement like this, but when you think about it, there is nothing to lose here. Stress is proven to make muscles agitated and in pain, so making the effort to reduce stress can only result in lowered physical pain. This increases the longevity of your workforce, which is a good thing.
Diseases and illnesses can contribute to or worsen back pain. Kidney stones and infections, blood clots, bone loss, and arthritis are all examples of such illnesses. In truth, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent these illnesses in a general sense (there are techniques specific to each one). As a supervisor, you can request that employees get regular medical exams and report any known illnesses to you. When an illness is identified, you can take more steps to be accommodating to the specific employee. Some steps available may be reducing the lifting work given to that employee, moving said employee to a more appropriate position, or supplying equipment that makes the job require less effort. Keeping an experienced employee is worthwhile for new hires and ensuring a job is done efficiently, and it can also be costly to replace them.
One of the best measures to protect against back injuries related to materials handling in your workplace is the proper training. Remind your workers of these things to keep them safe on and off the job.
- Don’t rush. Taking the time to assess whether they can safely lift an item or if they will need the assistance of a lifting or moving aid.
- Make sure that they have the right equipment for the job. Some materials that need to be moved are simply too heavy or awkward to for an aid and will require a forklift operator’s assistance.
- Check terrain in terms of stability and ground surface.
- Check the weight rating on the equipment. Don’t exceed the safe working load.
- Follow the equipment manufacturer’s instructions for safely loading and unloading the equipment.