Back strain is one of the most common injuries workers experience on the job. But many of these incidents can be avoided by implementing simple back safety practices to prevent both overuse and repetitive stress injuries.
Back injuries can damage the spine, back muscles, or both. You can take a proactive approach to back safety by following a few effective strategies to protect your body against injury and ensure safe and effective lifting habits in your daily life, at work and beyond.
Most common causes of back injury at work
The causes of back injury, especially working in turf maintenance, are many. But the number-one cause is no surprise to anyone:
Lifting extremely heavy objects or objects that are unstable is the biggest cause of back injury in the workplace.
Lifting things from awkward locations, for example from overhead areas, along with lifting from ground level are the two situations where you may be at risk.
In addition, movements that include repetitive motions, such as twisting, reaching overhead or bending while lifting can also cause injury.
Long periods of working in a bent over or strained position can also lead to straining or injuring your back. And still more injuries involve falls or tripping over debris left in the work area.
We know you don’t come to work to practice yoga, but many workers who fail to “warm up” muscles before doing physical labor are ultimately at higher risk of back injury. Even wearing tool belts that are overloaded and too heavy can cause strain and unnatural movements, resulting, once again, in back injury.
Best techniques to avoid back injuries
Workers should learn the best strategies for safe lifting in order to avoid back injuries.
- Keep materials off the ground level, whenever possible, to minimize bending and lifting.
- Store materials where there is sufficient space to avoid twisting or reaching motions.
- Keep materials close to where they will be used helps to minimize lifting operations.
- Split up large loads that need to be moved into smaller, more manageable bundles.
- Consider adjusting the work area (by changing the angle or height of said work area), to avoid lifting.
- Take advantage of a manual lifting and carrying devices, such as a hand truck, dolly, hook or pry bar.
- Use mechanical lifting devices, such as forklifts, cranes, hoist and block and tackle set-ups.
- Tools with longer handles can help you to avoid lifting operations.
- Finally, ensure all walkways are clear to facilitate the use of material handling equipment such as carts and dollies.
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Do you know the best technique to lift heavy objects?
First, you should always carefully assess the heaviness and awkwardness of load before engaging in a lifting operation. A manual or mechanical device may be the best way to handle the task.
- If you feel you can perform a safe lifting operation, start by facing the object.
- Place one foot behind the object and one beside it.
- Bend your knees, keeping your back straight, and grip the load firmly with both of your hands.
- Position the object close to your body, keeping your chin, arms and elbows tucked tight to your torso.
- Keep your weight centered directly over your feet, then lift with your legs.
- Try to avoid twisting the body while carrying the load.
- When setting the object down, reverse the process.
Do back belts work? When are they necessary?
Many people choose to wear back belts in order to provide more support for back muscles when doing lifting tasks. However, new research finds that these support belts may not provide the protection you expect.
Wearing a belt can give a false sense of security, so workers end up lifting excessive amounts of weight. A tight belt work for long periods can actually increase your risk of injury when the belt is off, too.
Individuals who wear back belts sometimes experience more upper back injuries. This happens when they rely on having the belt support them instead of using other manual or mechanical lifting devices. In addition, back belts can be hazardous for individuals who have high blood pressure.
The moral of the story: talk to your superintendent and ask your doctor if a back belt will be helpful for you.
Company policy is designed to AVOID back injury
Your employer is committed to help workers avoid injury through written Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs). In regard to back injuries, each company will inspect their job sites for health and safety hazards and work to reduce the risk of injury, whenever feasible.
If an accident occurs that results in a back injury, it will be investigated thoroughly.
Your employer is committed to provided necessary safety equipment to prevent back injuries, also, such as manual and mechanical lifting devices. This equipment is kept close to work areas and employers are required to ensure it’s maintained in good condition.
And finally, your employer will provide ongoing training to reduce the number of back injuries that occur, encouraging you and every other worker to implement back safety procedures.
What to keep in mind
You might have experienced countless occasions when handling heavy materials, and if you haven’t had a back injury yet, count yourself lucky.
If you apply these back safety principles to the work you do on the turf and at home, you will be able to circumvent back injuries in the future.
Think about how back safety techniques can be implemented in your daily life, and you will be able to avoid the pain and blow to mobility that occurs with these common back injuries.