Tips for Preventing Back Injuries in Construction
The construction industry, alongside transportation, has some of the highest incident rates of back injuries. Of all the construction-related injuries that occur each year, 25% of them are back injuries.
Every year, a back injury causes 1 out of 100 construction workers to miss work – usually missing about seven workdays but sometimes more than 30. Repeated injury to your back can cause permanent damage and end your career.
Most back problems are low-back injuries, including sprains and strains from lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing and pulling materials. You are at higher risk of low-back injury if you often carry heavy loads, must twist while carrying heavy loads, or work a lot while bent over or in other awkward postures.
Employees and employers should work together to decide how work can be changed to protect workers from back injuries. Back safety should be regularly incorporated into trainings. Fewer injuries mean better productivity and lower costs.
Injuries can be reduced by planning, changing how work is done, and training workers and supervisors on back-saving techniques.
- Cut down on carrying. Have materials delivered close to where they will be used.
- Store materials at waist height whenever possible.
- Raise your work to waist level if you can. Examples: pipefitters using pipe stands and masons using adjustable scaffolds to keep the work at waist height.
- Make sure floors and walkways are clear and dry. Slips and trips are a big cause of back injuries.
- Take rest breaks. When you are tired, you are more prone to injury.
- Use carts, dollies, forklifts and hoists to move materials – not your back.
- Use carrying tools with handles to get a good grip on wallboard or other odd-shaped loads.
- If materials weigh more than about 50 pounds, do not lift them by yourself. Get help from another worker or use a cart.
- When lifting or carrying materials, keep the load as close to your body as you can.
- Try not to twist when lifting and lowering materials. Turn your whole body instead.
- Lift and lower materials in a smooth steady way. Try not to jerk the lift.
- When you pick up materials off the ground, try supporting yourself by leaning on something while lifting. Don’t bend over; instead, kneel on one knee and pull the load up on to your knee before standing. (Wear knee pads when you kneel.)
- Plan the lift. One person should take responsibility for giving the orders to lift, turn and set down. But everybody needs to understand the full task, route and approach to doing it before starting so that the lift goes smoothly.
- Lift and lower in the same manner. Each worker should follow the same safe lifting techniques:
- Squat down close to the load.
- Get a firm grip.
- Keep the back straight.
- Lift slowly, powering the lift with leg muscles not back muscles.
- Move slowly and evenly. The load should be carried without sudden starts or stops. And all workers should watch where they’re going.
- Keep the load level and the weight evenly distributed. Workers should be especially careful when going up or down inclines.
- Carry long loads on the same shoulder. Each team member should carry a long load, like pipes or boards, on the same shoulder. If the object is rigid, they should walk in step. But if the load is flexible, walking out of step is the best way since this will keep flexible objects from bouncing.
- Avoid walking backward. If it’s absolutely necessary, make sure the path is clear and have an extra team member to guide the move.
- Inspect equipment. If you choose a mechanical helper like a hand truck, check it over to make sure it is in good repair and the wheels are working correctly.
TEAM LIFTING DON’TS
Make sure team lifters understand that they should not:
- Twist their bodies when lifting or carrying.
- Lift from one knee.
- Change their grip while holding the load.
- Step over objects when moving the load.
- It is difficult to lift a load higher than your shoulders, so safely use a step stool, stepladder, platform or equipment to place loads higher.
- Another difficult lift is from deep within a container. You can modify the basic lift procedure by getting as close as you can to the load, squatting slightly and placing your bent knees against the bin. Use a similar procedure to safely lift heavy items from a car trunk or a truck bed.
- For light, little objects in the bottom of a container, you can use the golfer’s lift. Swing one leg straight out behind you, flex the other knee and use one hand to balance yourself on the edge of the bin and the other hand to pick up the load.
Apprentices are assigned some of the hardest work there is. Being young and strong, they sometimes carry more weight than they should. Make sure apprentices are protected against back injuries, so they don’t end up with long-term back problems and have to leave the trades.
FACTS ABOUT BACK BELTS
Some contractors have workers wear back belts. If a doctor prescribes a back belt, it may help someone recovering from a back injury. But a government study by NIOSH found no evidence that back belts can prevent injuries. The only thing it does do is force a proper posture. In fact, workers wearing a back belt may falsely believe they are able to lift a heavier load than they can safely lift. Rather than depending on a back belt to protect you, try changing the lifting work to make it safer.