According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries. Many of these injuries are caused by poor lifting techniques, bad posture, and carrying too much body weight. The natural aging process also contributes to weakening of the back. Since a deteriorated back is more susceptible to injury, there are a number of techniques and guidelines that can help workers prevent injury.
One common myth is that a back belt can help protect your back from injury. In fact, not only are they not required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), they aren’t even recommended. Using a back support doesn’t prevent someone from performing a task improperly. In fact, back supports may create a false sense of security, leading to injury by encouraging excessive heavy lifting and weakened muscles. OSHA defines belts that are worn as back supports to be medical devices that should be prescribed by a physician for medical reasons only. Although they may ease the pain of a pre-existing back injury and provide a sense of support or comfort to the user, the most important fact about back belts is that they do not allow for the user to lift more or disregard safe lifting practices.
More than 70 types of industrial back belts are on the market. In 1995, four million back belts were purchased for workplace use according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) data. Regardless of type, back supports are meant to be a supplemental, not a primary strategy for protecting your back and improving workplace safety. A better plan, as proposed by OSHA, is to strengthen the back with exercises and an ergonomic workplace strategy that discourages unsafe lifting, twisting, bending, and reaching.
The next time a friend, co-worker, or family member thinks that a back belt will prevent back injuries, tell them to think again. If a back belt is to be worn, the user must acknowledge that the belt is there for guidance only and does not substitute for unsafe lifting practices. Remember, once your back goes, it may never come back.
What suggestions or practices do you follow in the workplace to prevent back injury?