Back injury

Low back pain is common and can be extremely painful. It can be difficult to cope with the severe pain but fortunately it is rarely due to serious disease. However, it is important to emphasize that some back injuries may result in chronic illnesses which may call for surgical intervention.

Employers have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees and other people who might be affected by what they do. The Qatari Labor Law requires employers to take actions to protect employees against the risk to their health and safety arising from work conditions and to provide safe and healthy workplaces for employees.

Employers have a legal duty to consult with all employees or their elected representatives to be able to realize what they find difficult and often have good ideas about how to improve things.

Involving employees and safety representatives in discussions about how to improve health and safety will also make it easier to agree on procedures changes and employees will be more likely to follow safety instructions that they have helped to design.

Some people are more subject to back pain than others, so it is important to consult employees in the risk assessment process.

Causes of Back pain

It is probably fair to say that every worker who lifts or does other manual handling tasks is at a risk for back injury.  Back pain can be caused by different work factors, comprehending those occupational practices will help –at a later stage- to improve working conditions, and in implementation of various prevention methods.

Back pain is common in occupational roles that involve:

• posture – poor/ awkward postures such as stooping, bending over or crouching,
• maintaining the same position for long periods of time e.g. working with computers, or driving long distances. Also working when physically overtired
• repetitive tasks – such as manual packing of items,
• force – heavy manual labour, handling tasks, pushing and pulling loads that require excessive force,
• vibration – operating vibration tools
• cold temperature – working in low temperature environment

Though, as individuals we vary in our size, shape, strength, endurance, flexibility, knowledge, experience and skill. Accordingly, if two individuals exposed to the same combination of risk factors and to the same degree will respond differently (one employee may NOT experience any discomfort, while another might develop back pain).

There are many other factors that increase the Risk of developing back pain, it may include:

• previous back injury
• alcohol and drug abuse
• smoking (due to reduced oxygen supply to the spinal discs and decreased blood oxygen from the effects of nicotine on constriction of the arteries)
• physical fitness (it may prevent back injuries)
• anxiety, depression, job dissatisfaction, mental stress at work can place people at increased risk for developing chronic back pain.
• high workloads
• tight deadlines
• lack of control of the work and working methods

Preventing back pain

The complete elimination of this risk is not realistic. However, organizations can reduce the number and the severity of back injuries by using safe work practices.

It is essential to identify all factors that make the worker more susceptible to injury or that directly contribute to injury. A successful approach in this regard takes the shape of a combined knowledge of ergonomics, engineering, the work environment, and human capabilities and limitations.

There are several steps that can be takes to reduce risk of back pain:

• providing information, training, education, and supervision on working safely, and making employees aware of the influencing factors for back pain
• a live risk assessment procedure should conducted by trained assessors to minimize risks
• providing safe equipment’s, and mechanical handling systems (lift tables, conveyors, yokes or trucks), and providing adequate training to employees on the use of the equipment, to assist employees in carrying their duties safely
consulting regularly with the employees on their health and well-being to help in identifying concerns and developing trends, and to getting suggestions and ideas on risky activities/tasks, and taking actions to address any outcomes from these discussions
• responding promptly when an individual employee reports back pain
• making changes to work environment and work style as far as is practical, and considering ways in which jobs can be made physically easier and safer to perform, including job design/redesign.
• considering Job Rotation- to reduce physical and mental fatigue
• encouraging training of employees on physical wellness, and encouraging employees to adopt correct postures for the tasks they do at work and home
• ensuring employees take allocated breaks and leave work on time
• organization and planning of workflow
• establishing acceptable weight handling limits
• assigning more time for repetitive handling tasks

The design or redesign of jobs involving Manual Handling and Lifting should be approached in the following stages:

• eliminating heavy Manual Handling and Lifting
• decreasing Manual Handling and Lifting demands
• reducing stressful body movements
• pace of work and rest breaks
• improving environmental conditions

 

by Tarik Altoubasi FCMI IQA 

references Canadian center for occupational health and safety (Back Injury Prevention)

                     Hseni (Back pain – advice for employers) 

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