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Workplace Causes of Low-back Disabilities

Tuesday, May 05, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Workplace injuries represent a serious economic setback. Not only do they cause loss in productivity, but they also cost money for worker’s compensation and medical expenses. One of the most common injuries in the workplace is lower back pain, which is often a symptom of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). An MSD may impact the muscles, nerves, spinal disks, or joints. In the workplace, lower back injuries fall into two primary categories:

  • Non-accidental injuries: These are caused by standard work conditions. They generally result from repetitive motions, poor posture, or prolonged activity. Non-accidental injuries cause cumulative damage over time.

  • Accidental injuries: These are caused by unforeseen circumstances, like a load’s unexpected shift or a slip and fall. These injuries cause immediate damage to muscles or soft tissue.
While it is more difficult to completely eliminate accidental injuries, forethought and ergonomics can prevent the vast majority of non-accidental injuries. There are five primary causes of non-accidental lower back injuries.

  1. Heavy lifting: The leading cause of lower back disabilities, this is the most common source of injury in fields like nursing and construction. Manual lifting often requires frequent twisting and bending. It is important to use the proper tools and use correct form when lifting. Employees should also avoid heaving lifting if they are mentally or physically fatigued.

  2. Repetitive motion: Continuous repetition of any activity, including typing or mousing, can lead to stress injuries over time. Frequent breaks and a sit-stand desk help to combat lower back disabilities due to repetitive motion. Other useful ergonomic interventions include roller balls instead of mice, or voice-recognition software to cut down on keyboard use.

  3. Static posture: Many employees sit or stand in the same position for long periods of time. If this position is not ergonomically sound, employees can easily develop lower back pain or injury, especially if they are sitting in poorly designed chairs. Employees should have proper support at all times. For those who stand, this may include a floor mat. Employees who sit all day need ergonomic chairs with proper lumbar support.

  4. Poor posture: Failure to maintain a proper, neutral posture places tension on the joints and muscles, particularly in the lower back. Damage accumulates over time, and can be irreversible. It is easy to encourage correct posture with an ergonomic chair and specialized workstation. The height of the work surface itself may also need adjustment.

  5. Low job satisfaction or high job stress: Psychosocial factors like office morale significantly impact employee health. Mental stress is directly linked to physical maladies, especially lower back pain. Therefore employers must address the office climate and work to maintain positive morale.
By eliminating the major causes of lower back disabilities in the office, employers can maintain productivity and save money. Banishing back pain from the workplace means happier, healthier employees.

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