Back Injuries Guide

Preventing back injuries is a major workplace safety challenge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. Further, one-fourth of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing industry billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by employees.

Moreover, though lifting, placing, carrying, holding and lowering are involved in manual materials handling (the principal cause of compensable work injuries) the BLS survey shows that four out of five of these injuries were to the lower back, and that three out of four occurred while the employee was lifting.

No approach has been found for totally eliminating back injuries caused by lifting, though it is felt that a substantial portion can be prevented by an effective control program and ergonomic design of work tasks.

OSHA is considering ways to help employers and employees reduce these injuries, and is looking at both major categories of methods for preventing lifting injuries through administrative and engineering controls. The former includes carefully selecting and/or training workers so they can safely perform lifting tasks. Engineering controls attempt to redesign a job so lifting becomes less hazardous.

Summary of Requirements
Suggested administrative controls include:
  • Training employees to utilize techniques that place minimum stress on the lower back.
  • Physical conditioning or stretching programs to reduce the risk of muscle strain.
Suggested engineering controls include:
  • A reduction in the size or weight of the object lifted. The parameters include maximum allowable weights for a given set of task requirements; the compactness of a package; the presence of handles, and the stability of the package being handled.
  • Adjusting the height of a pallet or shelf. Lifting which occurs below knee height or above shoulder height is more strenuous than lifting between these lines. Obstructions which prevent an employee's body contact with the object being lifted also generally increase the risk of injury.
  • Installation of mechanical aids such as pneumatic lifts, conveyors, and/or automated materials handling equipment.
Training
Employees in jobs that have the potential to cause ergonomic stressors, and their supervisors shall receive ergonomic awareness and job specific training in:
  • Recognition of workplace risk factors and methods of control.
  • Identification of signs and symptoms and health effects of exposure to workplace risk factors.
  • Importance of early reporting.
  • Employer's medical management procedures.
  • Reporting procedures and report distribution.
  • Corrective actions to be implemented and role of each individual involved and how to participate in the process.
  • How to procure ergonomic protection standard.
Inspections
In one study it was determined that at least one-third of compensable back injuries could be prevented through better job design (ergonomics).
Other factors include frequency of lifting, duration of lifting activities, and type of lifting, as well as individual variables such as age, sex, body size, state of health and general physical fitness.
The employer shall use the OSHA workplace risk factor check list or a variation of, to identify "problem jobs".
Recordkeeping
Identification of problem jobs
Each employer with 10 or more employees shall establish and maintain accurate records of the identification of problem jobs. The records shall include the following information and be maintained for at least 5 years:
  • Name and job classification of employees in each problem job.
  • Copies of most recent, initial and follow-up completed workplace risk factor checklist for employees in problem jobs, with date of completion.
  • Any other conditions that might have affected the results of the identification of problem jobs.
Job improvements process
The employer shall establish and maintain an accurate record of the most recent job improvement process. These records shall be kept for at least 5 years after the job is controlled.
Training
The employer shall maintain a current copy of training materials and program used, and the most recent methods and results of evaluations of the effectiveness of training for five years.
Medical management
Employee records shall be maintained for at least the duration of employment plus 5 years and shall include:
  • Name of employee
  • Musculoskeletal disorder management plan prepared by the healthcare provider.
Written Program
Written program will be required per proposed ergonomic standard.
Applicable Regulations
  • Regulations specific to ergonomics do not currently exist. In the interim, ergonomic issues fall under the OSHA General Duty Clause.
  • NIOSH Lifting Guidelines

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