Back injuries are a common and often preventable occurrence in the workplace. Whether you work in an office, on a building site, in a factory or any other environment, it is essential to prioritise safety to reduce the risk of back injuries at work.
A back injury can cause significant pain and discomfort, leading to lost productivity and potential long-term health issues. In this guide, we will explore practical strategies and best practices to prevent back injuries at work, ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for everyone.
Employer Duty Of Care To Prevent Back Injury
Employers are legally obliged to try and keep staff as safe as possible while they’re at work. As well as trying to prevent workplace accidents, they should also conduct risk assessments and take precautions if there is a risk of back injuries.
Various laws can be used to establish this duty of care including:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
- The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.
- The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
However, it’s not just the employer who has a duty of care when it comes to trying to reduce workplace back injuries. Staff must also do all they can to try and protect themselves and their colleagues. This means they must adhere to any safety training provided by their employer, use any lifting devices if provided and take rest breaks when instructed to do so.
Poor Workspace Ergonomics Causing Back Injuries
One of the primary factors contributing to back injuries is poor ergonomic setup in the workspace. Whether you sit at a desk for prolonged periods or stand for long shifts, your work area should be designed to promote good posture and reduce strain on your back.
Some of the key considerations and practices that can reduce workplace back injury include:
- Ergonomic chairs: Choose a chair that provides lumbar support and can be adjusted to maintain a neutral spine posture. Adjust the height so that your feet rest flat on the floor, and your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Avoid crossing your legs, as it can restrict blood flow.
- Desk height: The height of the desk should allow your forearms to rest parallel to the ground when typing, and that your screen is at eye level. This will help prevent slouching and minimise the risk of back and neck strain.
- Standing workstations: If your job requires you to stand for extended periods, such as while working on a factory line, anti-fatigue mats could be used to reduce pressure on your back and legs. Where possible, the height of the workstation should be adjusted to maintain proper posture and consider using a footrest to shift weight between the legs.
You can find out more about the importance of ergonomics in the workplace in this blog post.
Proper Lifting Techniques To Prevent Back Injuries At Work
Lifting heavy objects improperly is a major cause of back injuries in various industries. Whether you work in construction, warehousing, or even in an office setting where lifting is occasionally required, following proper lifting techniques is crucial:
- Bend your knees, not your back: When lifting, squat down by bending your knees, keeping your back straight. This technique engages your leg muscles rather than relying on your back. In turn, this will reduce the risk of straining your back.
- Keep the load close: Hold the object close to your body to minimise the force on your back. Avoid twisting while carrying heavy items and pivot your feet instead.
- Seek assistance: If an object is too heavy or awkward to lift alone, ask for help from others.
- Consider lifting aids: Whether possible, employers should look to reduce the amount of manual lifting that is required and provide hoists, trolleys and other devices.
More information on how to handle and lift loads safely is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
Regular Stretching, Exercise And Rest Breaks
Staying physically active and incorporating stretching exercises into your daily routine can significantly reduce the risk of a back injury at work. Regular exercise helps strengthen the muscles that support your spine and improves flexibility, promoting better posture. Simple stretches, techniques and exercises that might prove useful include:
- Core-strengthening exercises: Engage in activities like planks, bridges, and abdominal curls to strengthen your core muscles, which provide essential support to your back.
- Back stretches: Perform stretches like cat-cow, child’s pose, and trunk rotations to release tension in the back muscles and increase flexibility.
- Regular breaks: Employers should allow staff sufficient rest breaks. Ideally, these should be in separate areas designed specifically so that staff can take a seat, rehydrate and relax in relatively peaceful surroundings.
Considering Back Injuries To Remote Workers Too
As the trend of remote work continues to grow, it is crucial to address the ergonomic challenges associated with working from home. Many staff may not have access to proper office furniture at home, leading to an increased risk of back injuries at work.
Therefore, if staff are working from home, employers should check that:
- An adjustable chair is used: Ideally, this should be an ergonomic chair that supports the back and allows for height adjustment.
- There is a designated workspace: Staff should not be allowed to work from their sofa or bed! Instead, a designated workspace should be available with a desk and chair that encourage proper posture.
- An adjustable monitor is available: Staff should be provided with a monitor that can be easily adjusted to eye level if they don’t already have their own. This will help to reduce slouching and potential back injuries.
In some cases, it might be appropriate to carry out workstation assessments at the employee’s home to try and prevent back injuries at work. This doesn’t necessarily require employers to visit the employee’s home as a self-assessment form might be appropriate.
Staff Training And Awareness
Employers must provide staff with training on how to do their job safely. This includes training on how to prevent a back injury at work. Importantly, this training must be refreshed at regular intervals. Some examples of the types of training that might be useful include:
- Ergonomic principles: Teach employees how to set up their workstations correctly and emphasise the importance of maintaining proper posture.
- Lifting techniques: Demonstrate proper lifting techniques and provide practical scenarios for employees to practice.
- Reporting procedures: Encourage employees to report any discomfort or early signs of back pain promptly. Prompt reporting can help prevent minor issues from developing into more serious back injuries.
If your employer has not provided health and safety training, you should consider speaking to your health and safety representative or raising any concerns directly with your supervisor.
Personal Protective Equipment
Legally, employers are responsible for providing PPE to all staff if there is no other way for a risk to be mitigated. When it comes to preventing workplace back injuries, this might include anti-slip footwear for example.
In addition to PPE, back injuries may be preventable by making small adjustments to the workplace such as installing handrails in areas where slips and falls might be common.
What To Do If You Suffer A Back Injury At Work
If you suffer a workplace back injury, there are some steps you should take. These may help to reduce the impact of the injury and could help you if you decide to claim compensation for your suffering. These steps include:
- Report the accident. You should tell your supervisor about the incident or accident so that it’s noted in the company’s accident report book.
- Visit your GP. You should seek medical advice for your back injury as left untreated, some back injuries can become much more serious and debilitating.
- Take photographs. Taking pictures of your workstation or your accident scene can help you to demonstrate the cause of your back injury.
- Speak to witnesses. If anybody else can confirm your working conditions or describe the accident that caused your back injury, ask for their contact details.
- Note any expenses. If your back injury has any financial implications, keep a record of them. You may be entitled to claim such costs back if you make a personal injury claim so it’s also a good idea to retain bank statements or receipts.
Preventing back injuries at work is a collective effort that requires the cooperation of employers and staff alike. By implementing ergonomic practices, promoting proper lifting techniques, encouraging regular exercise, and raising awareness workplace back injuries can be avoided.
Preventing back injuries at work might appear to be time-consuming for all involved but putting the work in to do so can improve productivity, reduce the number of sick days and improve morale in the workplace.
If you have suffered a back injury at work and would like to discuss whether you might be entitled to compensation, please call us on 0800 6524 881. One of our advisors will provide free advice about your options during a telephone consultation.