15 May Safety Thoughts – Looking After Your Back
Back pain is a big problem – studies have estimated that 540 million people around the world suffer from back pain at any one time. More than 4 million working days a year in the UK are lost because of it, and in the USA back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) account for almost 30% of illnesses leading to days off work.
This pattern is repeated all across Europe and America and increasingly in Asia as well. These problems cost money – the UK National Health Service spends over £400 million of taxpayers’ money a year on treating MSD and The Work Foundation estimated that the European Union as a whole loses as much as 240 billion euros, or 2% of overall gross domestic product, a year due to back problems.
Most of all, however, this is about people and individual quality of life. Back problems cause pain and discomfort and can limit individuals’ ability to participate and enjoy a whole range of activities. In extreme cases back problems can leave people permanently unfit for work.
The most frequent, and most obvious, cause of back pain and other MSD is trying to lift heavy objects in the wrong way, but this is by no means the only cause. Working in cramped or awkward conditions which require large amounts of bending or twisting, carrying out repetitive tasks for an extended period, or pulling on ropes under tension may all cause injury. It is also important to recognise that back pain is not only something that affects manual workers or those at sea; office work, particularly when seated at a computer for lengthy periods, may contribute to back problems.
The golden rule with your back is that prevention is better than cure and the following guidelines may help to keep your back problem-free:
- Think before you act – do you need to move this heavy object, or carry out maintenance in this awkward space, or is there an alternative?
- Use mechanical handling aids whenever possible
- Get help, never try to lift something that is too heavy
- Organise your workspace so that you can reach tools and equipment as comfortably as possible
- Make sure your computer workstation is setup correctly
- Use the correct manual handling technique – keep your feet close together, arms tucked in and lift objects by bending your knees and hips, not your back
- If working sitting down, try to get up and take a break every 30 minutes
- Try to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and endeavour to lose any excess weight
- Give up smoking – smoking can reduce the blood sup- ply to discs between the vertebrae, and this can lead to disc degeneration
- Maintain a good posture – avoid slumping in your chair, hunching over a desk or walking with your shoulders hunched
- Learn relaxation techniques to help manage stress – stress is a major cause of back pain
Look after your back – TH!NK LSR
Peter Chilman, QSE Manager