We have your back
Poor posture and being overweight can predispose you to back injury in several factory and trade environments – and even in the office. SHEQ MANAGEMENT investigates how to “put your back into it”, while minimising personal harm
Many jobs, in a variety of industries, are hard on your back, because they entail a lot of lifting and bending or simply standing. These include carpentry, laying floors, construction and lifting occupations. Long-haul truck drivers, working long hours, suffer stress and fatigue in their lower back muscles, as can workers in the manufacturing industry, who stand for long periods without resting their backs. Even the relatively inactive task of secretarial work can also result in back strain.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States of America (USA), back injuries account for nearly 20 percent of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace and cost the nation an estimated US$ 20 to US$ 50 billion (R206 to R515 billion) per year.
Dr Robin Maris, a Johannesburg-based chiropractor, says that in the various trade environments, particularly those that involve heavy lifting, injury could be minimised by the use of kidney belts during periods of heavy lifting.
He notes: “It is difficult to quantify what percentage of injuries could be prevented, as each individual is different and core muscle strength plays a significant role. It is for this reason that a programme that teaches employees how to strengthen core postural muscles as well as training on how to lift heavy objects correctly, so as not to strain the back, would be essential. I would imagine that these two components, used together, should reduce the incidence of lower-back injuries by as much as
75 percent, but this is an estimate.”
Maris states that, in his practice, approximately 65 percent of back injuries are as a result of poor posture (sitting and standing), incorrect office ergonomics and imbalances in muscle strength. He adds: “The remaining 35 percent are generally acute injuries as a result of lifting heavy objects, but it cannot be said that these didn’t occur as a result of the aforementioned issues. The lifting incident could have just been the final factor leading up to the injury.”
Chris Ewe, manager for The Back Shop International, markets the Reo-lumbar belt/kidney-belt/brace, which is made in the USA and complies with the strict regulations of the American Occupational Health and Safety Act. It is marketed as a support for lifting heavy loads. Ewe notes the growing local trend within the trades towards use of back support belts, with 50 percent of his customers coming from this sector. He adds: “Locally, it’s becoming as common as wearing a hard hat on a construction site.”
Trevllyn Murray, a physiotherapist in Johannesburg, says: “More than 75 percent of our patients come in for lower back pain, of which more than 60 percent report that there was no specific incident or traumatic event that may have caused their pain, but rather it is the result of a build up of stress over time. Some patients, who work on the factory floor and on assembly lines, as well as mechanics, tend to complain of a repetitive overloading motion. This results in repetitive strain injuries.”
Both professionals believe that companies should not rely on back belts as a “cure all” for back injury, however, but should begin to undertake prevention measures in order to reduce the risks of back strain.
Murray adds: “It would be useful to get occupational therapists to come into the work environment to redesign ergonomic set-ups and educate employees on the prevention of lower back pain and injury.”