My Back is Killing Me – Eliminating musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

22 Feb My Back is Killing Me – Eliminating musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

In the United States around 149 million workdays a year are lost due to back pain at a cost of between $100 billion and $200 billion a year. In the UK back pain is the commonest disability suffered by young adults, with over 15 million workdays a year lost to it. In fact, back pain is a major cause of disability throughout the industrialized world; according to the WHO it is one of the top ten diseases and injuries that result in the days off work across the globe (Mazroa Al & Mohammad A., 2012).

Anyone who has suffered lower back pain will be able to attest how disabling the condition can be. And once you have experienced it once, it tends to recur. For most of us the pain will last from a few days to a week or so; it is unusual for it to last longer than six weeks. But then a few months or maybe years later it’s back again.  Although the condition tends to be acute or sub-acute, it can also become chronic. In the industrialized world between 60% and 70% of adults experience it at some time, with peak prevalence occurring in people aged 36 to 65 years.

Back pain has many risk factors. Some that have been identified include:

  • Occupational posture
  • Obesity
  • Height
  • Age
  • Emotional state (it is associated with depressive moods)

Treating it is always problematic. Analgesics are the most common treatment, but that can precipitate additional problems. Acupuncture and physical therapies such as spinal manipulation can help, and the last ditch treatment is surgery on the discs, which doesn’t always produce the desired outcome.

Avoiding back pain

Clearly, it is far better to avoid back pain than to treat it. In the past back pain tended to be associated with manual work, but in our modern world where many of us spend much of our work day sitting in front of a computer it has become a more egalitarian condition that can affect any employee. Spending hours on end sitting at a desk or work station is simply storing up trouble.

There is much that we can do to reduce the risk. For instance, if you are using a workstation then your seating posture is vitally important. The position of your screen, your chair height, the position of your mouse and keyboard, and just the overall layout of your desk all have an impact. Many people fail to sit correctly. Your chair should be adjusted to reduce strain on your back, you should rest your feet on the floor or a footrest, you should avoid twisting or stretching repeatedly, and consider swapping that telephone handset for a headset.

Lifting is one of the major causes of back pain. It isn’t always necessary to lift heavy objects to injure your back; even lifting light objects the wrong way can be enough to cause injury. You should always use a good lifting position with the load close to your waist and keep your back straight; don’t twist your back or lean sideways.

Implications for your workforce

While back pain is just one of the musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)associated with the workplace, it is a major one. To protect your workforce from this and other MSDs, and save lost work days and other costs, a systematic approach is needed.

If your duties include occupational health and safety, you will find the resources on this website are just what you need. Our proven approach helps our clients to reduce costs related to MSDs by an average of 78% within four years.

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