Did you know that back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace and cost the nation an estimated 20 to 50 billion dollars per year? Back injuries and other cumulative trauma disorders can be associated with such activities as manual material handling and lifting, hand tool usage, awkward postures, prolonged equipment operation, vibration and repetitive motion.
Vibration, for instance, restricts the blood supply to the affected body parts, which, depending on the vibration level and duration of exposure, can contribute to an ergonomic injury. Activities that expose workers to vibration include drilling a hole in a wall or sitting for a long time operating a forklift.
Other tasks involve repeating the same actions with little variation. Highly repetitive tasks often involve the use of only a few muscles or body parts while the rest of the body is unaffected. When motions are repeated frequently, there may be inadequate time for muscles and tendons to recover, causing them to become strained and fatigued. Activities that require repetitive motion include moving items from a low box to a high shelf or loading cans onto a production line.
A back safety program is key to dramatically reducing debilitating back injuries on the job, and understanding the anatomy of the back is helpful to get started.
Your back is a column of 24 vertebrae (7 Cervical, 12 Thoracic, and 5 Lumbar) as well as 5 fused vertebrae in the sacrum and the 4 coccygeal bones. Your spine is also comprised of soft tissue structures (ligaments, muscles and tendons) and intervertebral discs. The discs act like cushions to absorb shock.
Common back injuries include:
Strain: Overused or overstretched muscles
Sprain: Torn ligaments from sudden movement
Herniated disk: Loss of the spine’s cushioning ability from strain or age
Proper lifting techniques can help prevent strains, dislocations and muscle tears. Think about stretching before lifting and always lift with your legs – not your back. Look around before you lift. There should be a clear path for you to carry your object. You also should know where you are going to put it down.
Learn to protect yourself and those around you from back pain, and understand how to properly treat back ailments should they arise.