They have hard heads to protect your head. Steel toe boots to protect your toes. And safety goggles to protect your eyes. But none of those things protect you from the injury you are most likely to suffer at work: Back problems. Avoiding back problems is the most important health-related priority you can have when working in the trades.
If you’ve ever come home from work and felt an aching back, there are some things you can do in the future to help with avoiding back problems. The Center for Construction Research and Training says the construction industries have the highest rate of back injuries other than the transportation industry. One in every four of all construction industry injuries every year are back injuries, causing 1 in every 100 construction workers to miss work.
These injuries, on average, cause the worker to lose seven days of work, but often, it’s much more than that, sometimes more than a month. Most back problems are caused by low-back injuries, and repeated injuries can cause permanent damage and even disability. The most common back injuries are strains and sprains caused by lifting, pulling, carrying, and pushing things at work. If you work with heavy loads, you are obviously more likely to suffer a back injury. But your chances of getting injured are also elevated if you spend a lot of time working bent over, or twisting and turning while carrying heavy objects — activities which are common in many of the trades and other blue-collar work, not just construction.
But there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of suffering a back injury and dealing with back problems. The first, and most effective, step you can take is to have a good plan for your work day. Storing materials at waist height can make a big difference, which cuts down the amount of lifting and bending over that you have to do. Put your work at waist level if you can, by using stands or scaffolds, so that you don’t have to reach down or bend over as much. Cut down on the distance you have to carry items by having them delivered as close as possible to where they will be used.
Many back injuries are caused by tripping or slipping, so make sure walkways and floors are clean and dry and that you always wear slip-resistant footwear. And don’t be afraid to take breaks. Fatigue makes your back more susceptible to injury. Another good way to prevent back injuries is to simply ask for help — Not just from people, but also by using effective tools. Dollies, carts, forklifts and hoists are a back’s best friend. If you have to move wallboard or other odd-shaped loads, use carrying tools with handles, in order to get a better grip. And if something weighs more than 50 pounds, don’t try to be macho and handle it all by yourself. It’s not safe. Ask another worker to help or get a cart.
When you are carrying heavy things, it’s important to move in the proper manner. Keep the load as close to your body as possible, and try not to twist, especially when lifting and lowering things. If you must turn, turn your whole body. Lift and lower with a steady motion — don’t jerk. And when picking things up from all the way on the ground, lean on something to support your body. Don’t bend over, bend down with one knee on the ground and pull it up to your knee before standing. Use knee pads while doing this. Working Person’s Store has a great selection of knee pads to assist with this, from some great manufacturers like Ergodyne and Impacto. And one more thing — back belts don’t really help. A recent government study by NIOSH found no evidence of back belts preventing back injuries. So don’t rely on them. Instead, rely on proper technique, and the tips listed here. Back pain doesn’t have to be part of your job description. Follow these simple steps, and don’t become a statistic.
And to keep those everyday pains at bay, don’t forget to check out WPS’s selection of back massagers!