Preventing back injuries during work involves knowing what to do before, during and after the most common causes of back injury in the workplace… lifting, sitting and standing. These everyday activities cause injury to workers usually because of repetition, overexertion, fatigue and improper technique. Pursuing the following mindsets can help prevent these types of injuries:
- Know your limits. When fatigue sets in, take a break and rehydrate. Know when to stop an activity before making mistakes and sustaining an injury. Slow down and pace yourself, and consider reducing the weight of an object if possible. Also, get extra help when necessary, whether by working with others or finding appropriate equipment to ease the strain on your back.
- Use proper technique. How activity is done is just as important as how long it is performed. Proper technique always involves good posture that keeps the spine straight. When lifting, use feet to turn instead of twisting the back, and stagger feet instead of keeping them side-by-side so the legs take most of the weight instead of the back. Also, keep objects close to the body rather than further away, which increases the chance for back injury because the legs and core are less able to assist. When sitting or standing for long periods, maintain the natural curve of the spine by adjusting workspace height, using a quality chair, and using a footrest. Learn about workplace ergonomics to help stay focused on work instead of back pain.
- Take breaks & stretch. To establish this habit, try thinking like a professional athlete, someone who would never compete without taking the time to stretch muscles before and after an activity. Professional athletes also know the value of rest and recovery. They know that failure to do these means increased chances of injury as well as prolonged injury should one occur.
- Get help when needed. Use a dolly, cart or lift truck for heavier objects. Ask others for help not just with heavy objects but when a lot of objects need moved. When using available tools, be sure to use them properly. For example, push rather than pull a cart or dolly, use both hands, and secure the load. If you need training for equipment, ask for it. Most supervisors know that proper equipment training results in a safer and more efficient workplace.
- Consider the environment. Regardless of activity, think it through from beginning to end before starting. Consider any obstacles, equipment needs or potential hazards. Before lifting, plan the path for carrying the object, looking for potential hazards such as slippery surfaces or closed doors, and test the object before lifting to make sure it’s not too heavy. When sitting or standing for long periods of time, make sure table and desks heights are appropriate for reducing strain and that often-used items are easily reached without twisting.
Utilizing these basic habits provide a great start for preventing back injury in the workplace, but they just scratch the surface. Every situation presents unique challenges, which is why every workplace likely has specific safety guidelines. Take time to learn about your workplace’s guidelines as well as those unique to the situations you face regularly. These guidelines along with your own mindset make a formidable team for preventing back injury at work.