Labor Day CheckList Can Help You Prevent Low-Back Injuries Year-Round
employees can work together to help prevent injuries that are costing
between $50 billion and $100 billion each year, and estimated to affect
half of working-age adults annually.
College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) this week is
highlighting the growing problem of low-back injuries, issuing a "Labor
Day CheckList" with some simple suggestions on how to avoid low-back
injuries in the workplace.
suggestions include addressing such areas as lifting or heavy physical
work, awkward postures, whole-body vibrations and the work environment.
For example, employers should conduct ergonomics reviews of workstation
design and equipment to ensure that each employee is sitting and moving
in the safest positions; teach and reinforce good habits and safety
techniques to employee drivers; provide ongoing programs to help
employees learn how to reduce stress levels; and regularly review
accident/injury records to identify problem areas and eliminate hazards.
preventive strategies are quite simple and inexpensive to implement,
according to Dr. Edward J. Bernacki, director of the division of
occupational medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine,
"It's so easy
to adjust workplace design and teach people how to modify their habits
so as to reduce the stress on their bodies," he said. "Many times it
just takes something as uncomplicated as placing a table in a worker's
area to let that person avoid repetitive bending. It's the simple
things you can do that eliminate most of the risks."
focus on such areas as fitness, diet, smoking and sleep also can
contribute to preventing low-back injuries in the workplace. For
example, ACOEM suggests:
Provide time and/or facilities for employee exercise and create incentive programs that encourage employee fitness.
Offer healthy food options in on-site dining facilities.
Supply water coolers/fountains in the workplace.
Sponsor smoking cessation programs and discourage smoking in the workplace. (Smoking reduces blood/fluid flow to the spine.)
Use accepted guidelines for safe shift-work practices.
Educate your work force on the importance of adequate sleep for optimum functioning and accident prevention.
You need to
be relentless in your pursuit of safety and education, Bernacki said,
noting that the payoff of prevention always greatly outweighs the cost.
"It's much cheaper to fix these problems up front than to treat injuries and deal with lost work time," he said.
measures] can certainly minimize the frequency and recurrence, and
often prevent, injuries," added Dr. Donald T. Statuto, CEO of
Occupational and Industrial Health in Peterborough, N.H., who guides
companies through a process designed to eliminate problems that could
cause injury, using regular plant walk-throughs to identify and
eliminate possible hazards. The process used to treat those who are
injured also plays a part.
"We set up a
medical clinic and examine and treat every person who sustains an
injury to determine whether it's work-related. Then, if it is
work-related, we go to the worksite to determine how it occurred and
prevent it from happening again," Statuto explained.
assessment and adjustments to the job or working conditions are made
with the involvement of both the employee and the supervisor, because
everyone has to agree on a workable solution to make sure it's
implemented successfully," he said, adding that immediate treatment and
conducting of the assessment process minimize the chances of additional
One of the
reasons you may be seeing such a high incidence in back injuries today,
says Dr. Stanley H. Miller, medical director at Saturn, is the general
deconditioning and increased obesity in the U.S. population.
has weak abdominal muscles, for example, they've lost a very important
component of the back structure, because these muscles help support the
back," explained Miller. "Extra weight in the front of the body
increases the curvature of the lower back, which creates additional
stress to the region."
work force also plays a role in the frequency of back injuries, since
older workers are usually less physically capable of tolerating
activities that might cause injury, said Bernacki. And, the
proliferation of new industry — and the lack of control rapid
growth brings — are contributing factors, he said.
receive a complementary copy of the checklist — which highlights
more than 40 measures for preventing low-back injuries — by
sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-sized envelope to: Labor
Day CheckList, ACOEM, 55 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, IL
6005-3919; visiting the ACOEM Web site at www.acoem.org; or using its fax-on-demand service, (800) 226-3626.
Wellness Quick Stats on Low Back Pain
Half of U.S. working-age adults have low-back symptoms annually.
Approximately 60 percent to 90 percent of adults in North America
experience an acute episode of low-back pain at least once in their
Costs associated with compensable low-back injuries are estimated at
$50 billion to $100 billion a year, with only one-third of that amount
representing medical expenses. The remaining two-thirds include
non-medical costs for income replacement indemnity, service benefits
and medical legal expenses.
Source: American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 1998.
Back injuries are the single most frequent disorder requiring days off
from work — more than 490,600 back injuries resulted in time away
from work in one year. Men outnumber women almost 2-to-1 in sustaining
back injuries requiring time off the job.
The median number of days spent away from work due to back injuries is
six. Nearly one-quarter of back injuries result in three to five days
away from work, while approximately 6 percent result in a loss of 21 to
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1996.
Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing