Back Safety

Of all the human body parts, the back is one of the most susceptible to work-related injuries. It is put at risk in physically demanding jobs, but even workers who sit in a chair all day must take care to avoid straining and damaging their backs. By adopting good habits and understanding certain principles of human anatomy, you can avoid the all-too-common problem of work-related back pain.

  • Stretch and straighten out before your work. Pause often to do the same during your work schedule.
  • Avoid staying in a fixed position (i.e., not moving enough) for too long because it can lead to muscle spasms. This will initially be felt as stiffness, but it can lead to tissue damage. Take stretch breaks often.
  • Stress and fatigue can cause muscles to tighten. To relieve this tension, sleep regularly and for a long enough period of time. Also, consider using breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, to relax during your work schedule.
  • Stay in good physical condition. A protruding stomach creates an extra load, putting additional weight on the spine.
  • Avoid "awkward positions" such as bending, over-reaching, and twisting, which put excessive strain on your back.
  • Position your work below the shoulder and above the knees to minimize over-reaching.
  • Raise bins and containers from the floor to reduce bending and over-reaching.
  • Use steady, adjustable platforms to easily reach items stored overhead.
  • Push, rather than pull, to maintain the spine's natural curve
  • Squat instead of bending, using knee pads if kneeling.

When you lift:

  • Get as close to the load as possible. Objects become relatively heavier the farther away they are located from the body's center. Lifting such objects creates excessive strain on the back.
  • Test the load before lifting. If a load is too heavy or cumbersome, do not attempt to lift or move it yourself. Get assistance from others.
  • Keep your back straight and tighten your stomach muscles, which helps keep your spine from twisting.
  • Use your leg muscles to straighten up, not your back.
  • Review the resources provided for additional lifting tips.

Employees who perform work that puts them at risk of back injury should have documented back safety training. Managers and supervisors can request a training session for their employees by submitting a request or contacting the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, Risk Management and Sustainability (EHS RMS) at 278-7422.