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Avoiding back injuries in the workplaceEditor’s Note: This is the first of a special three-part special report on avoiding back injuries, the most common workplace injury.

Anyone who has suffered back injury can tell you how painful and debilitating they can be. They tend to take a long time to heal and often can lead to further back problems months or even years later.

They also account for one out of every five workplace injury, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Back injuries can cause an employee to miss work and lose wages, but they also can cost an employer in lost productivity and in workman’s compensation claims. In fact, approximately 20% of all workmen’s comp claims are due to workers suffering back injuries.

So there is a benefit to both employees and management to avoiding back injuries whenever possible.

Under Pressure

Most people know that you should always lift with your legs, bending your knees when picking up a heavy object, but have you ever considered why this is the case? The amount of force you put on your back when you don’t bend your knees can be tremendous.

Think of your back as a fulcrum in a lever system. Because it isn’t centered, bending at the waist causes you to have a 10:1 weight-to-force ratio. In other words, lifting an object that weighs only 10 lbs. actually puts about 100 lbs. of pressure on your lower back. So any type of repetitive lifting and bending from the waist can quickly result in a back injury.

Other Ways to Hurt Your Back

Heavy lifting is without using your legs is only one high-risk action that can seriously hurt your back. Others include:

  • Twisting at the Waist — Twisting while carrying weight, such as happens when you use a shovel
  • Reaching and Lifting — Reaching overhead, across a table, or out the back of a truck
  • Lifting or Carrying Awkward or Odd Shapes — Causes potential imbalance and moving center of gravity
  • Working in Awkward and Uncomfortable Positions — Kneeling, crawling or other task that require you to bend over for extended periods
  • Sitting and Standing — Even if you aren’t lifting anything, staying too on in the same position can weaken back muscles

Plus, the more you bend and the further you extend your arms, the higher the risk of a back injury. For example, standing upright puts about 80 lbs. of compressive pressure on your lower back, but that pressure jumps to 170 lbs. when you are lifting just 20 lbs. about 10 inches away from your lower back. And if you were to bend over at the waist carrying that same 20 lbs., the compressive pressure jumps to 635 lbs.

In the next installment of this special report, we will examine more common causes of back injuries in the workplace and offer some solutions for avoiding them, including ergonomic support products that are available from Bahrns.




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