Back pain in the UK
If you listen to an office worker for more than five minutes, it is easy to believe that back pain is a curse of the modern, sedentary workforce. Thousands of newspaper column inches each year are devoted to the “epidemic” of back pain caused by office jobs – after all, over a quarter of a million (229,000) people report new work-related back injuries every year.
But occupational health statistics tell a completely different story. According to the HSE, employees working in the specialised construction and healthcare industries are most likely to develop serious back disorders.
These figures are little surprise, as healthcare professionals and construction workers both do a lot of heavy lifting as part of their daily routine. Moving patients from bed to bed, or carrying stone and bricks are both far removed from sitting at a desk every day, clearly explaining why these particular workers are so badly affected.
A failure in the system?
The problem is that the risk of back injury when lifting heavy weights is well known. So why are workers still at such high risk of injury?
Referring back to the HSE statistics, it is apparent that men and women in the 35-44 age range are at far greater risk of experiencing a back injury. Age certainly plays a role in workplace injuries as general levels of fitness and flexibility tail off as employees get older. The reality is that employees approaching middle age are simply at higher risk of injury because their muscles and skeleton are ageing.
However there is also the possibility that workers aged 35-44 are simply ignoring their heavy lifting training and taking shortcuts that risk their health. Many healthcare professionals injure themselves by manually lifting patients for instance because they feel that using the supplied hoisting equipment is too slow. In effect, these employees are hurting themselves by taking shortcuts.
Regular training is essential
Every worker should receive training in the basics of heavy lifting – keeping their back straight and using their legs to perform the lift – when they first start work. However this training needs to be repeated routinely to prevent bad habits and shortcuts becoming part of standard practice. Workers who have 15+ years experience are much more likely to have learned unhealthy practices than their recently employed, 18-year old counterparts.
For maximum protection against back disorders, you should also consider regular risk assessment of working conditions and practices to identify where workers are ignoring their training, or require additional lifting equipment to help perform their duties safely.
On the plus side, occupational back disorders are showing a general downward trend. But with over 800,000 workers affected by back pain, there is more work yet to be done.
So over to you – how is your business affected by back pain? What do you do to reduce the risk of injury for your employees?