Debunking the Back Belt Myth

iStock_000016262807SmallAccording 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?

2 Comments on “Debunking the Back Belt Myth

  1. In your second paragraph, you state OSHA’s stand on the use of back supports, but you do not cite in what part of the (I would assume) 29 CFR 1910 this can be found. Please?

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  2. Steve,

    Thanks for your comment!
    OSHA does not have a formal standard in regards to back belts. There is a referenced letter on the osha.gov website that states as follows:

    “Back belts are not recognized by OSHA as effective engineering controls to prevent back injury. While they may be accepted by individual workers because they feel as if they provide additional support, the effectiveness of back belts in the prevention of low back injuries has not been proven in the work environment.

    Thus, OSHA does not forbid the use of back belts and similar devices, nor does it endorse their use. We have included two NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) publications for your information that discuss the current state of knowledge on backbelts and the importance of the employer developing and instituting a comprehensive ergonomics program.”

    https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=22559

    If you need any more information, please feel free to contact me at rphelps-franco@central-insurance.com

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