Avoiding Back Injuries

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.

6 guidelines to prevent workplace slips, trips and falls

It’s probably happened to most of us. That momentary lapse of inattention thinking about a personal problem or distracted by an activity that ends in a slip, trip or fall. A stumble down a stairway. A trip over an uneven surface. Slipping on the ice. It can lead to a variety of regrettable events ranging from a simple bruised shin to an extremely serious injury. It’s just one of a variety of conditions and situations that set the stage for slips, trips and falls in the workplace.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slips, trips and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents, which account for:

  • 15 percent of all accidental deaths per year, the second-leading cause behind motor vehicles
  • About 25 percent of all reported injury claims per fiscal year
  • More than 95 million lost work days per year – about 65 percent of all work days lost

In general, slips and trips occur due to a loss of traction between the shoe and the walking surface or an inadvertent contact with a fixed or moveable object which may lead to a fall. There are a variety of situations that may cause slips, trips and falls.

  • Wet or greasy floors
  • Dry floors with wood dust or powder
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Polished or freshly waxed floors
  • Loose flooring, carpeting or mats
  • Transition from one floor type to another
  • Missing or uneven floor tiles and bricks
  • Damaged or irregular steps; no handrails
  • Sloped walking surfaces
  • Shoes with wet, muddy, greasy or oily soles
  • Clutter
  • Electrical cords or cables
  • Open desk or file cabinet drawers
  • Damaged ladder steps
  • Ramps and gang planks without skid-resistant surfaces
  • Metal surfaces – dock plates, construction plates
  • Weather hazards – rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail, frost
  • Wet leaves or pine needles

Here are six guidelines to help you create a safer working environment for you and your employees.

(1) Create Good Housekeeping Practices
Good housekeeping is critical. Safety and housekeeping go hand-in-hand. If your facility’s housekeeping habits are poor, the result may be a higher incidence of employee injuries, ever-increasing insurance costs and regulatory citations. If an organization’s facilities are noticeably clean and well organized, it is a good indication that its overall safety program is effective as well.

Proper housekeeping is a routine. It is an ongoing procedure that is simply done as a part of each worker’s daily performance. To create an effective housekeeping program, there are three simple steps to get you started

  • Plan ahead– Know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it and what the particular work area should look like when you are done.
  • Assign responsibilities– It may be necessary to assign a specific person or group of workers to clean up, although personal responsibility for cleaning up after himself/herself is preferred.
  • Implement a program– Establish housekeeping procedures as a part of the daily routine.

(2) Reduce Wet or Slippery Surfaces
Walking surfaces account for a significant portion of injuries reported by state agencies. The most frequently reported types of surfaces where these injuries occur include

  • Parking lots
  • Sidewalks (or lack of)
  • Food preparation areas
  • Shower stalls in residential dorms
  • Floors in general

Traction on outdoor surfaces can change considerably when weather conditions change. Those conditions can then affect indoor surfaces as moisture is tracked in by pedestrian traffic. Traction control procedures should be constantly monitored for their effectiveness.

  • Keep parking lots and sidewalks clean and in good repair condition.
  • When snow and ice are present, remove or treat these elements. In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to suspend use of the area.
  • Use adhesive striping material or anti-skid paint whenever possible.

Indoor control measures can help reduce the incidence of slips and falls.

  • Use moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges in entrance areas. Make sure they have backing material that will not slide on the floor.
  • Display “Wet Floor” signs as needed.
  • Use anti-skid adhesive tape in troublesome areas.
  • Clean up spills immediately. Create a procedure for taking the appropriate action when someone causes or comes across a food or drink spill.
  • Use proper area rugs or mats for food preparation areas.

(3) Avoid Creating Obstacles in Aisles and Walkways
Injuries can also result in from trips caused by obstacles, clutter, materials and equipment in aisles, corridors, entranceways and stairwells. Proper housekeeping in work and traffic areas is still the most effective control measure in avoiding the proliferation of these types of hazards. This means having policies or procedures in place and allowing time for cleaning the area, especially where scrap material or waste is a by-product of the work operation.

  • Keep all work areas, passageways, storerooms and service areas clean and orderly.
  • Avoid stringing cords, cables or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisle.
  • In office areas, avoid leaving boxes, files or briefcases in the aisles.
  • Encourage safe work practices such as closing file cabinet drawers after use and picking up loose items from the floor.
  • Conduct periodic inspections for slip and trip hazards.

(4) Create and Maintain Proper Lighting
Poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents.

  • Use proper illumination in walkways, staircases, ramps, hallways, basements, construction areas and dock areas.
  • Keep work areas well lit and clean.
  • Upon entering a darkened room, always turn on the light first.
  • Keep poorly lit walkways clear of clutter and obstructions.
  • Keep areas around light switches clear and accessible.
  • Repair fixtures, switches and cords immediately if they malfunction.

(5) Wear Proper Shoes
The shoes we wear can play a big part in preventing falls. The slickness of the soles and the type of heels worn need to be evaluated to avoid slips, trips and falls. Shoelaces need to be tied correctly. Whenever a fall-related injury is investigated, the footwear needs to be evaluated to see if it contributed to the incident. Employees are expected to wear footwear appropriate for the duties of their work task.

(6) Control Individual Behavior
This condition is the toughest to control. It is human nature to let our guard down for two seconds and be distracted by random thoughts or doing multiple activities. Being in a hurry will result in walking too fast or running which increases the chances of a slip, trip or fall. Taking shortcuts, not watching where one is going, using a cell phone, carrying materials which obstructs the vision, wearing sunglasses in low-light areas, not using designated walkways and speed are common elements in many on-the-job injuries.

It’s ultimately up to each individual to plan, stay alert and pay attention.

Preventing Workplace Injuries — Office Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science that seeks to fit the job or task to the individual rather than expecting the individual to conform to the job or task. It seeks to adapt work or working conditions to suit the worker. The goal of an effective ergonomics program is to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that can be developed by workers.

Evaluate your employees’ workstations to ensure they are set up properly for each employee. A couple of areas to pay attention to are:

  • Chair Height: Adjust height so your employee’s elbows are at about desktop level.
  • Seat Back: Adjust for good support of the lower back and use a lumbar cushion if needed.

Another way to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders is by taking short breaks from your computer every hour to stretch. A couple of good stretches are:

  • Fingers and Hands: Make a fist and hold for a second. Then spread your fingers apart as far as you can. Repeat several times.
  • Lower Back: Sit on edge of chair with your knees and feet well apart, hands resting between your legs. Bend your trunk forward with head and arms dangling. Touch the floor with your hands and hold for 5-10 seconds. Return slowly to the starting position.

For more information on office ergonomics and stretching, call WHFA at (800) 422-3778 to request a free copy of their Helping to Prevent Workplace Injuries — Office Ergonomics brochure.