Back Pain in the Workplace

If you’ve ever experienced back pain you’ll know how debilitating it can be. Unfortunately back pain in the workplace is common especially if your work involves heavy lifting, repetitive movements or sitting at a desk for long periods. May occupations such as construction work; nursing and factory work can place significant demands on your back. Even office work can cause or worsen back pain.

Common causes of back pain in the workplace

There are a number of things that can cause back pain. Some of which are detailed below:

  • Lifting – incorrect lifting of heavy objects resulting in back injury.
  • Repetition – repetitive tasks where the same movement is repeated over and over.
  • Sitting – extended amount of time sitting at a desk resulting in poor posture.

Preventing back pain at work – advice for employers

As an employer you should be aware of the risks associated with the work being carried out by your employees. Employers have a legal obligation under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 to assess the risk to employees if manual handling of loads is part a person’s job.

The demands of some work related tasks like manual handling, lifting, bending or driving (for long periods) can either cause back issues if done incorrectly or can exacerbate an existing back problem.

In order to try to minimise back issues you can:

  • reduce the amount of manual handling and avoid it where possible e.g. by using lifting equipment
  • minimise carrying distances e.g. moving loads on trolleys
  • talk to employees about where lifting is causing issues and evaluate how the risk can be mitigated
  • carry out a risk assessment for all tasks involving manual handling, heavy lifting, bending and driving where they cannot be avoided
  • put in place appropriate training (where applicable) to address the likelihood of injury including back pain.

For more information on specific industries and minimising back pain see: http://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/backpain/employers/industryguidance.htm and https://www.hseni.gov.uk/articles/back-pain-advice-employers.

Preventing back pain at work – advice for employees

If your job involves:

  • lifting heavy or bulky weights
  • carrying loads over distance
  • repetitive tasks
  • bending or stooping
  • stretching up high
  • long distance driving
  • or sitting at a PC for extended periods.

then you should be aware that there is a high risk of back pain unless you take the time to understand the risks and take care to do things properly.

You should:

Understand the right way to lift heavy weights: you should lift with your legs (not your back) and hold the object close to your body. It’s important to maintain the natural curve of your back. If you think an object is too heavy to lift safely you should seek advice, ask someone to help or use appropriate equipment.

Make sure not to twist awkwardly: it’s important not to twist while lifting as this causes your spin to be out alignment causing disc injury and back problems.

Avoid or modify repetitive tasks: vary the tasks you perform (if possible) to avoid repetitive motion. Alternate physically demanding tasks with less demanding ones. Avoid unnecessary bending, reaching or twisting. Use appropriate equipment when available.

Support your lower back (lumbar support): over time, poor posture or repetitive stress can lead to muscle strain in the back which can cause severe pain. By supporting your lower back you relieve the stress on the spine and the pressure on your back. Use ergonomic chairs or lumbar support cushions.

Improve your posture: don’t slouch when standing or sitting. See the NHS website for information on How to sit correctly. You should also move around. You can also help your posture through exercise.

Take breaks to avoid sitting still for too long: try to be aware of the length of time you are sitting still. Everyone’s muscles eventually tire of being in the same position and begin to slouch leading to bad posture and putting strain on your back. Instead you should take a break and walk around. Stretching will also help loosen your back muscles and relieve any tension.

And finally…

Pay attention to your body: when your body starts to complain or you feel a twinge that’s your body’s way of telling you that somethings wrong: you’re lifting incorrectly, you’re twisting your spine or you’ve sat still for too long — it’s time to take note, stop what you’re doing and walk and stretch your muscles.

These might seem like simple steps to reduce back pain in the workplace but they can make all the difference. Prevention is key.

New Broom Training offer consultancy services and can advise on H&S risk assessments.