Magazine article Occupational Hazards

UCLA Study Supports Back Belt Use

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

UCLA Study Supports Back Belt Use

Article excerpt

Public health researcher Jess Kraus, Ph.D., MPH, never had much faith in the ability of back supports to prevent low back injuries. He did not believe existing evidence for them was strong enough, and questioned whether additional research could prove the utility of back supports. Now, however, he talks about "compelling evidence" that the simple, inexpensive devices may be a solution to one of the most troublesome safety and health problems.

Kraus, director of the UCLA-based Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center, was the lead researcher on a six-year study of the injury experience of 36,000 Home Depot workers in California. The study found that a consistent policy of mandatory back support use reduced back injuries by one-third.

"We found clearly a protective effect in this population," said Kraus, whose study was scheduled to appear in the November issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. "The effect was so large statistically that it cannot be discounted."

Kraus' study tracked people who worked at 77 Home Depot stores in California between Jan. 1, 1989, and Dec. 31, 1994. Between 1990 and 1992, the home improvement retail stores phased in mandatory back support use for all employees who routinely lift and/or carry materials.

When Kraus compared injury rates with and without back supports, he found a difference: Without the devices, workers suffered low back injuries at a rate of 30.6 per 1 million hours worked. With them in place, the rate dropped to 20.2 per 1 million hours.

The study found that the biggest benefits were for workers at highest risk of back injuries - men who were 25 and younger or older than 55, had worked for the company for one to two years, and had jobs that required the highest intensity of lifting (generally more than 25 pounds and occasionally over 50 pounds).

Kraus said Home Depot increased use of pallets and forklifts during the study, but he concluded they did not have a major impact. He told Occupational Hazards that back supports alone appeared to be the key injury prevention tool at Home Depot.

"Even training was a very minor issue," he said. "Home Depot doesn't spend a lot of time on training because of its high turnover. Management showed a 5-minute video and then people were on the floor with their back supports. …

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