Avoiding Back Injuries

Advising employees to be careful when lifting makes sense both from a health standpoint and a financial one. The U.S. Department of Labor states that back injuries are the second most common reason for lost work days (behind only the common cold). Back injuries cost businesses up to $100 billion a year. But there are some things you can suggest to employees––and do yourself––to curb such injuries in your small business.

  1. Test and examine heavy objects before lifting or moving. Tip the object to determine its weight. Sometimes lighter but more awkward objects can be just as hard on the back as heavy objects.
  2. When an object is heavy enough to present a problem, look for alternatives before moving. Call for help. Use equipment such as forklifts or dollies. Move a package piece by piece rather than all at once.
  3. Never extend your arms when attempting to lift or lower heavy objects from a height. This puts undue pressure on the back.
  4. Make sure that you’re on solid footing. Slipping or twisting while lifting can cause injury.
  5. Use correct lifting procedure: Keep the back straight, kneel to grasp the object and lift with the legs, not the back.
  6. While carrying a heavy object, take short steps, maintain a firm center of balance, don’t attempt to go up or down stairs and don’t strain by carrying the load too far. Before lifting, plan in advance your route and where you will put the load down–– and know how far you can easily carry the load.
  7. Never reach high for a heavy load. Call for help before attempting.
  8. Don’t count on support belts to prevent back injuries. Using belts has not been found to reduce back injuries (Source: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, December 2000).
  9. Don’t hurry while lifting and don’t let others hurry you. Think about what you’re doing before starting to lift. Saving a minute or two is not worth a permanent, painful injury to the back.

Back and neck injuries are not confined to heavy lifting. Retail sales personnel and others who spend long hours on their feet often run the risk of back strain and injury, even when not involved in heavy lifting. To help out:

  1. Stand straight; don’t slump. Don’t bend over a table or counter while reading or writing. Sit down instead, at least while completing the task.
  2. Avoid putting all or most of your weight on one leg for long periods. This can put a strain on your hips and can cause lower and upper back problems.
  3. Wear proper shoes. If you know you’ll be on your feet for hours, don’t wear high heels unless you absolutely must. Shoes should provide good overall support, proper arch support, protection from the environment and have adequate cushioning to protect the foot against the unrelenting hardness of concrete flooring.
  4. Take frequent breaks and sit down, even for a few minutes at a time. While sitting, put your legs up to relieve pressure and fatigue caused by standing. Some retail stores discourage employees from sitting during work shifts. This practice causes undue mental and physical fatigue and can lead to back strain and injury.

Accidents and injuries are bound to happen, but by following the suggestions above and educating your employees on the best way to prevent back injuries, you’re reducing the likelihood of missed days and productivity due to back pain.

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