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The Most Important Job-Site Strategies for Preventing Back Injuries

Anyone who's lived beyond the age of, say, 30, knows how debilitating back pain can be. On a construction job site, the risk of an even more debilitating back injury is high – at least, it is without the proper precautions in place. Manual labor and back injuries go hand in hand, but with the right approach to hazard elimination and job site safety, you can minimize back injuries and back pain within your organization.

Teach Proper Lifting (and Enforce It)

One of the most important things you can do to minimize back injuries is to lift things properly. Unfortunately, you can't count on all your employees to lift things properly without any instruction, so it's your responsibility to educate them and help them practice proper lifting.

There are many elements of proper lifting to note. Perhaps most importantly, you should always lift with your legs rather than your back itself. That means squatting down to pick something up, rather than merely bending at the waist. This allows the body to align more naturally, distributing pressure so that the back doesn't bear a disruptive load. It's also important to keep the spine as aligned as possible before, during, and after the lift, and you should attempt to use the biggest, strongest muscles in your back to carry the load.

Hypothetically, these lessons can be taught in just a few minutes and reinforced with simple visual reminders posted throughout your workplace. However, many of your employees are going to have years, if not decades, of experience lifting things improperly, so it's going to be a hard habit to break. Accordingly, you need to be prepared to enforce proper lifting; this means identifying instances of improper lifting, reteaching those employees, and potentially intervening in a situation that could lead to back injury.

Pay Attention to Posture

Good posture is one of the best ways to prevent back injuries, both short-term and long-term. What constitutes good posture depends on your environment and the activities you choose to pursue, but it usually encourages people to keep their backs straight and avoid unnatural positions.

  • Standing. While standing, the people on your team should keep their spines straight, with their shoulders back. They should be distributing their weight on both feet, rather than leaning to one side, and they should avoid unnatural twists and turns.
  • Sitting. It's also important to maintain good posture while sitting. Whether you're working while sitting or on a break, you should keep your back straight and shoulders back, like with standing.
  • Specific activities. Posture is a bit more difficult to mediate when navigating specific activities, such as sawing wood or installing wiring. However, the fundamentals still apply.

Rotate Responsibilities

Some activities and environments are harder on the back than others, even if you have the right equipment and are maintaining proper posture the whole time. Accordingly, it's a good idea to rotate responsibilities on the job site. Instead of engaging in the same activity all day, every day, your employees will have an opportunity to change things up and use their bodies in a variety of different ways. This way, none of your employees bear a disproportionate amount of exposure to potential back injuries.

Invest in Proper Gear

Proper gear and equipment can mitigate the burden that the human back must bear. As a simple example, wearing knee pads or using a knee creeper can help maintain proper posture and relieve strain when participating in actions on the ground. Extension sticks can also make it easier to avoid reaching or contorting the body unnaturally.

Get Help

Sometimes, a load is too heavy for a single person to reasonably lift or carry; for these loads, it’s imperative topractice team lifting. If two people lift the object, the load for each person is only half the total load, reducing exposure and mitigating the risk of injury. However, it's important that the team lift be carried out correctly; the people participating in the lift need to be somewhat coordinated in their movements, or else one person could bear a disproportionate load or become vulnerable to injury.

Move Carefully (and Avoid Twisting or Reaching)

Everyone carrying something heavy on the job site should move very carefully. Twisting the back or moving in jerky, sudden motions can cause massive strain and lead to an acute back injury. Additionally, moving slowly and carefully encourages more deliberate, methodical action, reducing the risk of dropping objects, tripping and falling, or injuring others.

Understand Your Demographics

Finally, understand the demographics of your construction crew. Everyone on your team is going to be vulnerable to back injuries, but your older workers are going to be especially vulnerable – especially if they've had back injuries or back issues in the past. Accordingly, you may need to adjust the balance of responsibilities across your team to properly manage individual risks. For example, you could have your younger, stronger workers take on the most physically demanding tasks, or you could have your most vulnerable workers team up with others to distribute the load more effectively.

It's almost impossible to eliminate all risk of back injuries, especially in an environment as demanding as a construction job site. But with these strategies and a safety-conscious mindset, you can reduce vulnerabilities and hopefully minimize the risk of an accident. Stay consistent and vigilant if you want to see the best results.

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