Back problems in the workplace and how to avoid them

For many sectors, back problems in the workplace are an increasingly common occurrence. In fact the number of work days lost due to back problems was estimated at 15 million in 2013, which puts back problems as the number one cause of long-term illness.

There are numerous work scenarios where back problems can arise, from over exertion and physical lifting in manual jobs to desk work and long distance driving. But the real issue is getting a handle on the inherent risks of back problems in your workplace and finding appropriate ways to manage situations where back problems could occur by putting preventative measure in place and additional equipment, such as ergonomic office chairs or eye level storage that will help to reduce the stress and strain put on the back.

The common misconception of back problems in the workplace

A common misconception is that back problems in the workplace are only likely to arise in jobs involving heavy lifting, handling or physical strain, in sectors such as construction, warehouse, packing, automotive and delivery or unloading roles. However, there are plenty of other workplaces that may be considered ‘non-strenuous’ that also contribute to back problems. These include office workers sat at computers and desks all day, retail workers who spend long periods on their feet, as well as long distance drivers that spend large amounts of time in the same position or driving on uneven surfaces in seats that may not provide the right level of back support.

In fact there are numerous instances where back problems occur simply from people working beyond their normal physical limits or abilities, such as helping to move boxes in the shop store room or taking down Christmas decorations in the office. It’s quite often doing things without thinking like this can result in workplace back injuries.

Thorough Risk Assessments

This is why it’s vital to carry out thorough workplace risk assessments for health and safety, but with a specific focus on back problems. Regardless of the industry you’re operating in, being mindful of activities and processes, that could result in back problems, even the remote chance scenarios, will mean you can put appropriate measures in place to avoid back problems, which puts you and your employees in a far safer and healthier position. During your risk assessment, you should consider any measures that can make physical tasks easier, such as adjusting worktop heights or using wheeled trollies to transport loads, as well as considering revising processes and updating safety equipment to eliminate risks entirely.

Consult your staff

It is also a good idea to involve your staff, as they are the ones how carry out these tasks and will have a better grasp of the physical strains and possible risks of injury. Plus with staff involvement early on, it can also help to find more effective solutions and make adoption of new processes and changes much quicker too.

You should also establish any previous conditions or weaknesses in staff during the risk assessment process that could make certain individuals more prone to back problems. Thus you can assess the risk of the individual and their role before any incident occurs. As well as regularly consulting with all staff members about their health to highlight any concerns early and implement changes quickly if an employee reports back pain.

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