Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Keeping That Back in Shape

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Keeping That Back in Shape

Article excerpt

By learning more about now the back operates, you and your employees can head off many potential back problems.

Back safety usually gets glossed over with many "remember to bend your knees and not your back" remarks and posters as the safety class nods. But as an increasing number of employees begin to suffer from back pain and strain, it is not uncommon to hear them correct the cavalier attitudes of their fellow workers: "Listen up, it does make a difference how you lift." They now know from first-hand experience the damage one can do to a back through years of poor posture, improper body mechanics and lack of exercise.

Before one learns a list of back dos and don'ts, it is helpful to understand how the back works. This enables you to apply the why to all activities, whether it be lifting groceries, pushing a wheelbarrow or shoveling snow.

How the Back Works

The back is made up of a stack of blocks called vertebrae. The alignment of these vertebrae are critical in maintaining a healthy back. Craning the neck forward over a desk or table to read or to assemble small parts pulls these blocks out of alignment. Slouched sitting or bending over a pallet incorrectly initiates a constant strain on the lower vertebrae. In addition to alignment, the back's three natural curves keep the body balanced and allow you to move freely. These three curves are correctly aligned when your ears, shoulders and hips are in a straight line. As the low back (lumbar) curve carries most of the weight of the spine, it is imperative to maintain its alignment while performing the day's numerous activities.

The back is also made up of spongy cushions (discs) which are positioned between the vertebrae. These discs act like a car's shock absorbers. Bad shocks lead to an uncomfortable, bouncy ride. This is true for the back, as well. The discs become easily pinched by vertebrae when one's alignment is compromised by poor posture and improper body mechanics.

Lastly, abdominal, back and leg muscles support the body's curves and maintain alignment. They are the guide wires of the tower. If these muscles are weak or too tight, they will place added strain on the low back.

Keeping these factors in mind -- alignment, curves, healthy discs and strong, flexible muscles -- we are ready to attack any activity your employees perform. Well, maybe not all, but let's look at a few.


From when they get up until they go to bed, employees' backs are working. They have control over how hard they make their back work by the choices they make. Think about how much effort we place on preventing cavities or a heart attack. What do these have in common with the back? All three progress slowly; many times without flashing lights or warnings. Tooth decay gradually sets in, arteries become clogged over the years, and the back sustains constant unnecessary strain through bad habits. What can employees do to take action?

A common activity we all do is lifting. Whether it be crates, boxes of paper, sacks of onions, bags of kitty litter, your child, a suitcase or groceries, we all do some lifting. Most everyone has been taught to bend their knees while lifting. This is a good start, but it cannot be taught as the only important factor. Let's look at other critical components of a lift while taking into account how the back works.

B = Bow back in

A = Align vertebrae

C = Chin up

K = Keep feet on diagonal

These four components, known as B-A-C-K, assist people in maintaining their curves, keeping proper alignment, using their strong leg muscles and ultimately producing a safer lift.

As people plan for a vacation, so should they plan for a lift. They should be aware of how heavy it is. Do they need to get assistance or use mechanical help? Can the load be divided up? Where are they going with the load? Are they going to be tripping over wood scraps, other boxes, children's toys, etc. …

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