Problems caused by back pain at work

Businesses are failing to recognise the problems caused by back pain at work, say doctors.

Some 75 per cent of GPs questioned say the main cause of back pain in the workplace is due to sitting with a bad posture, with a further 59 per cent attributing bad posture to employees experiencing increased stress levels, according to a survey from back support specialist Dynaspine.

Martin Haines, physiotherapist, says: ‘The back is not designed to be static, and long hours hunched over a work desk or behind the wheel of a car without the appropriate support and movement can cause musculoskeletal problems.’

According to official figures, back pain is the largest reason for sickness absence in the UK and costs the economy £7 billion a year.

Of the 200 GPs surveyed, 68 per cent agreed that a shift in focus from treatment to prevention was needed when it came to dealing with back pain. In a separate survey of more than 8,000 British consumers, half reported to have suffered with back pain at least once a month, with one-third saying their work environment was a major contributing factor.

Back pain biggest cause of sickness

Deskbound workers are most likely to suffer from back pain, which is one of the biggest causes of sickness in the workplace, says an expert.

Kelston Chorley, an osteopath and head of professional development at the British Osteopathic Association, states long periods of inactivity, like sitting at a desk, can increase the risk of back pain. The expert says joint and back pain is one of the main reasons people take time off work, adding it is a ‘massive, massive problem’. Chorley states employers often underestimate the affect it will have on their workforce, which needs to be changed.

A recent report from the Department of Health found the UK economy loses 30 million working days per year due to sickness. The expert, speaking on behalf of BackCare Awareness Week, said to reduce this bosses should ensure their staff’s day is balanced out with some activity. ‘Our bodies were designed to be moving, to be mobile and to be active and nowadays we find that our lives aren’t like that,’ Chorley states.

Beating bad backs boosts business

There are four main ways to harm your back when at work:

  • Repetitive or heavy lifting
  • Bending and twisting
  • Exerting too much force
  • Poor working conditions

‘There is a misconception that preventative health and safety initiatives are costly and difficult to implement, but in fact many are extremely cost-effective and will save businesses from losing revenue through staff absenteeism, as well as increasing productivity.’

Better Backs advises that back injuries are an easy problem to tackle. It is worthwhile consulting and involving the workforce: most employees will know first-hand what the risks in the workplace are, so they can probably offer practical solutions to controlling them.

Reducing back injuries – advice for employers:

  • Assess the risk – the Manual Handling Assessment chart can help identify high-risk operations and can be downloaded by clicking here
  • Prioritise – sort out higher-risk operations first
  • Keep it simple – choose sensible solutions for lifting tasks
  • Train workers – to operate and maintain lifting aids safely
  • Check solutions for new risks, e.g. excessive pushing or pulling, vehicle movements

For more information about dealing with back pain at work visit the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

See also: UK university to help chronic pain sufferers back to work

Related Topics

Absence and Absenteeism

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