Back Injuries: The Leading Cause of WCB Claims
Lifting, bending, pulling, pushing, throwing, catching, twisting, reaching, stumbling, falling – it is virtually an endless list of the ways in which you can strain, sprain or injure your back. Whether it’s on the job or away from the workplace, whether it is a workers’ compensation claim, insurance claim or just a period of recovery, the cost of back injuries to employers is enormous, and it has become the leading cause of WCB claims. It is not just paying out sick time, absorbing the cost of workers’ compensation claims or the cost of accommodating an employee on modified duties, there is the loss in productivity, wages for extra help or temporary workers hired to meet deadlines or service standards and reorganizing procedures and staffing to fill the gap created by an injured worker that contribute to the impact back injuries have on society and the economy.
According to WCB Alberta statistics, back injuries are the consistently the leading cause of time loss claims in the workplace, in fact, the annual number of back claims is more than twice the total of the second most common injury. And this does not take into account any ‘no time loss’ workers compensation claims or non-compensable back injuries that prevent a worker from performing their regular job duties.
Additionally, the WCB Alberta statistics indicate that overexertion is the number one cause of workplace injury, suggesting that overexerting the back is the primary mechanism of injury for workers compensation claims. Although all back injuries can not be avoided, we do know the best way to reduce the related costs is to reduce injuries and the best way to reduce injuries is to prevent them in the first place.
The foundation of prevention is education. Learning and applying proper lifting techniques, knowing and performing regular back exercises, understanding the demands your job duties put on your back, whether work in a warehouse, on a jobsite or sitting at a desk can all contribute to the reduction of back injuries and accidents. Even though employers have no control over incidents that occur off the job, providing educational information and enforcing safe back awareness can be instrumental in preventing or reducing back injuries in the workplace and beyond.
Most back injuries occur when the back is used improperly and overexerted to lift or move something. Therefore, following these few simple suggestions, could make a huge difference in your back health and susceptibility to injury:
A strong back is directly linked to strong stomach muscles and a strong core. Abdominal exercises will improve core strength and help relieve some of the stress on the back, preventing undue strain. Simple back toning exercises will keep the back in shape and strong stomach muscles will assist in lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing and posture. Remembering to do simple back stretching exercises first thing in the morning and throughout the day will keep your back muscles flexible and supple regardless of what your job demands are.
Your back compensates for added weight in your abdomen by swaying backwards. This puts unnecessary stress and strain on the lower back muscles, puts your posture out of alignment and increases the risk of a back injury. A balanced and nutritious diet will not only improve your overall health and wellbeing but will assist with weight loss, which in turn, will lessen the burden on your back, relieve the stress on other joints and reduce pain. Using a proper lifting belt can provide extra back support if necessary.
Simply by training your body to stand and sit in a proper erect manner can prevent many back pains and strains:
- Sleeping on a firm mattress prevents unnecessary strain on muscles and posture.
- Sleeping on your side with your knees bent or on your back with a pillow under your knees can relieve stress and strain on the small of your back
- Standing erect, sitting up straight and concentrating on good posture will help strengthen and lengthen the back muscles.
- Hunching, stooping and slouching can lead to laxity in the ligaments in the spine which can leave you more susceptible to injury.
Many back strains and sprains can be avoided by taking the time to assess the situation before you start. It is essential to plan every lift, push, pull and move in advance, so stop to consider the following:
- What does the item weigh?
- Where does it have to go?
- How much manpower is required to get it there?
- What is in the way? Is the path clear?
- Is there equipment that can be used to assist the process?
Once you have assessed the situation, obtained any extra help and equipment that may be required, it is vital to ensure you are using proper lifting techniques:
- Make sure your body is correctly aligned in front of the object with your feet apartbend your knees to squat down, keeping your back straightgrab the object tightly with both hands, keeping it close to your body.
- Slowly stand upright, ensuring you have your balance.
- Make sure you have a line of sight to where you want to go.
- Start walking slowly.
- When you reach your destination, reverse the steps you used to pick the object up to place the object down.
- If you are working with others, use commands to coordinate when to lift, when to move, when to stop and when to release.
These tips won’t prevent all back injuries but making them part of your everyday routine will help minimize the risk of hurting your back while lifting anything, anywhere, anytime.