How to Minimize Back Injuries on Construction Sites

Construction Worker - Back InjuriesWorkers’ compensation tops the list of concerns for contractors. And it’s no wonder, considering that employee injuries cost U.S. businesses more than a billion dollars in workers’ comp costs each week, according to the 2013 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Injuries mean time away from work and sometimes painful rehabilitation.

On construction sites, back injuries are particularly common, with 177,580 back injury cases recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012.

What causes back pain? Most back pain is caused by overuse or straining of the muscles and ligaments, or “soft tissues” of the body. If steps aren’t taken to maintain a healthy back, the pain can become long-term and disabling. The good news is that back injuries can usually be prevented with safe work practices, proper tools, and simple stretching and strengthening exercises. Here’s a look at some of the ways you can help your workers protect their backs.

Staging and storing of materials. Staging heavy materials like concrete and lumber close to where they will be used prevents unnecessary handling and minimizes the threat of back injuries. Storing materials at waist height avoids the need for workers to bend over to lift them. We’ve all heard the advice, “Lift with your legs and not your back.” Making sure materials are stacked between knee and shoulder height makes that easier.

Proper padding. When carrying heavy lumber, workers should pad their shoulders to cushion the weight of the board. And no one should ever lift more than 50 lbs. without help.

The right tools. Using simple tools and equipment can reduce back strain. Handles made from rope and pipe can help workers carry lumber. Panel carriers reduce bending. And different kinds of dollies can be used to keep materials off the floor and move them around on wheels. Using powered equipment like cranes and fork lifts for heavier materials takes the strain off workers’ bodies and increases productivity.

Core exercises. Stretching and strengthening core muscles are also key to avoiding back injuries. Here are some exercises suggested by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and OSHA:

  • Abdominal contraction. You should tighten stomach muscles slightly when lifting objects. To strengthen the abdomen, stand up straight and lock stomach muscles by pulling your rib cage and pelvis together. Hold for 12 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  • Lower back stretch. Lie on your back, legs extended. Bring knees to chest. Hold for several seconds, release. Repeat 3-5 times.
  • “Cat and dog” full back stretch. Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under hips. As you inhale, look up and drop your stomach towards the floor. As you exhale, release and come back to starting position. Slowly tuck your chin to your chest and round your spine, pull your stomach muscles in, and arch your back. Return to starting position. Repeat 3-5 times.

Obesity, smoking, and stress may also be factors in back injuries. Occasionally, back pain may be a sign of a more serious medical problem. If you have an existing muscle, joint, or disc injury, or experience pain with exercise, consult your doctor.

Companies that have the lowest worker’s comp costs and fewest injuries work hard to promote a culture of safety throughout the organization. Bill Hayward, CEO of the Hayward Lumber Company in California, has said, “Our basic safety training is ongoing and intense,” in an article for UL Workplace Health and Safety. “Employees are trained in ergonomics, equipment, proper lifting, handling and personal protective equipment, and they know that we take their safety and health very seriously.” Are you taking your workers’ safety seriously?

To find out more about safety training courses, contact Diversified Safety Services today.

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