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.

Preventing Strains & Sprains

Lifting, pushing and overreaching are common causes of strains and sprains. Any job that requires you to sit or stand for long periods of time and bend in an awkward position, can cause excess stress and strain on muscles. Most strains and sprains affect the back, arms and shoulders. However, there are some very simple things you can do to prevent or minimize body strains and sprains.

Many strains and sprains occur because of poor material handling. Workers lift things that weigh too much or they lift incorrectly. Lift correctly by bending your knees, not your back and carry loads close to your body. Injuries can occur when workers try to pull or lift a heavy or awkward object without help or lift an object while twisting from the waist. When carrying a load, avoid bending or lifting upward unnecessarily and keep as much of the load as you can at waist level.

Get help with heavy loads. Don’t try to move or lift an object you can’t handle. Instead of lifting a 75-pound load, break it down into smaller parts. If you can’t break it down, get help from a mechanical device or lift it with another worker. Make sure moving equipment works properly or it will cause you to strain unnecessarily just attempting to get it to work. If the wheels on a cart are not aligned, you could strain your arms, shoulders and back trying to move it.

Also change your working positions frequently. Chronic strain due to an unchanging work position can weaken your back, arms and shoulders. Adjust working heights to prevent slumping or excessive reaching. A vicious cycle develops when chronic strain continues; muscles become less able to withstand strenuous activity and grow more prone to injury of all kinds. Stretch during the day to increase your flexibility. Take body relaxation breaks by letting your shoulders and neck muscles go limp; swivel your head or arms or flex your hands and fingers.

Take care of your whole body with exercise, proper posture, a sensible diet and adequate rest. If your muscles or ligaments have weakened over time from lack of exercise or age, you are more apt to get a strain or sprain than if you’re are physically fit.