Back Pain in the Workplace – An Employers Guide

Lower back pain in the workplace is very common and can affect everyone. It can also be extremely painful and debilitating if not tackled. It can result from a number of bad workplace working practices as well as from bad posture and from sitting too long in one place for extended periods of time. This article looks at some of the ways back pain can become an issue in the work environment and what employers and employees can do about it.

Causes of Back Pain in the Workplace

Back pain can be caused by many work situations. Some of the more common tasks that are associated with back pain are:

  • Where manual handling is involved e.g. lifting and loading heavy parcels or having to twist in awkward ways to place a box or parcel down.
  • Where tasks are repetitive e.g. manual handling of goods.
  • Sitting at a workstation for long periods of time without taking a break or when the workstation is not setup properly and has not been height or position adjusted to meet the needs of the person using it.
  • When driving long distances where you are seated for long periods of time e.g. bus drivers, taxi drivers, workers who travel as part of their work.
  • Operating heavy equipment which requires you to be sitting for extended periods e.g. excavator, digger etc.
  • When bending over or crouching is required as part of the job.
  • Pulling, pushing or dragging heavy loads.

Your Legal Requirement As An Employer

It’s important to note that employers need to comply with legal requirements to minimise the risk of their employees of developing back pain or making existing back pain worse. There are things that employers and employees can do to prevent back pain and manage it and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace.

Preventing Back Pain in the Workplace

There are steps that you as an employer can take to reduce the risk of back pain in the workplace.

You can:

Carry out risk assessments to assess those parts of the work that carry a risk as outlined above and start to put processes in place to mitigate or remove those risks. We cover this in a previous article: How to Carry Out a Risk Assessment.

  • As part of the risk assessment you should consider:
    • has training been carried out?
    • is further training required?
  • how you can make jobs easier e.g. can you utilise equipment that will do away with manually handling loads by moving loads on wheels; can you make it easier to handle smaller loads by providing better handles and can you adjust the heights of worktops etc. to prevent having to bend down or stretch up?
  • Consult regularly with your staff on where they may be having difficulty in carrying out a task and where their health and safety may be at risk. In this way you can identify concerns and react to them immediately before they become a health and safety issue. It’s also important to note that you have a legal duty to consult with all your employees or their elected representatives.
  • Take action as soon as you know there is an issue and implement solutions as quickly as possible to mitigate any risks.
  • Despite the precautions you take back pain in all employees can’t be completely ruled out and in the case where an employee reports back pain you need to respond promptly. In cases where back pain is reported you may find The Back Book helpful. It offers evidence-based advice on coping with back pain and can be useful for employers and employees.

Industry Specific Advice

The HSE have produced guidance specific to certain industries or activities on reducing the risks of back pain in the workplace. These include:

  • Kitchen staff
  • Manual handling situations in wood working
  • Working with display screen equipment (DSE)
    It’s important that employees don’t experience fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache from overuse or improper use of DSE by making sure their desk setup is well designed and correctly setup.
  • Office staff and keeping staff active.
    Research has shown that it’s just as important if not more important to avoid sitting at a desk (even if it is perfectly setup) or in a chair/seat in any job for long periods of time.In the office environment new ways of keeping staff active and moving are emerging. These include a number of office furniture products that can help your staff to avoid sitting for long periods, thereby improving their back care e.g. sit/stand desks (also simply known as ‘standing desks’) which is designed with a single or split level worktop which can usually be raised or lowered to allow the user to work standing or to lower the height to allow sitting. This flexible solution means staff don’t have to remain sitting throughout the day; instead they can adjust the desk height which then allows them to work while standing.

Further publications which can be of help include Manual handling at work; manual handling assessment charts; and Full manual handling risk assessment: Examples of assessment checklists.

What Can You Do As An Employee?

If you find that your work is resulting in back pain there are few things you can do.

  • You should report your back pain to your employer and to your safety representative if there is one in your workplace.
  • Discuss with your employer and safety representative, the work task that is causing you pain and how the task(s) can be changed or improved to prevent or minimise further stress on your back.
  • Ask whether your employer can put you in touch with occupational health support.
  • Point your employer to this page and to the H&SE Advice for Employers pages.

New Broom Training

New Broom Training offer a range of health and safety training courses as well as a consultancy service which offers businesses a complete assessment of all aspects of your organisation’s Health and Safety requirements, from in-house safety measures specific for your organisation to dealing with regulatory bodies on your behalf. New Broom Training can also assist with identification and assessment of potential problem areas within cleaning and facilities contracts, through our extensive knowledge and experience in the cleaning industry.

Contact us on 01795 500816 or via email at info@newbroomtraining.co.uk for more information.