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A safety meeting in a nutshel

BACK INJURY PREVENTION: ASSESSING RISK FACTORS

Note to presenter: Research historical back-injury information at your dealership (one or more of many great online resources) or call a specialist at your state Workers' Comp service office) and bring a summary with you to the discussion. Obtain a flip chart or dry-erase board and markers. Note 1: Statistics indicate that up to 80% of the population will suffer a back injury during their lifetime. If true, the great majority of us should be concerned about how to prevent or limit our potential for back injury. Note 2: Back injuries arise from exposure to a variety of risk factors that are present in all areas of our lives.

Introduce the topic of back injuries to the group. Then, ask how many people have experienced a back injury or back pain. Note the people who raise their hand, so you can bring them into the discussion for personal testimony at key moments later.

Ask what you think causes back injuries or contributes to back injuries. Possible answers include lifting, twisting, sports, falling down, repeatedly moving material, chopping logs. Encourage participation in brainstorming ideas.

Share these examples of off-the-job environmental risk factors that increase back injury potential. Note for the group how every day activities, in addition to the work-related examples the group previously identified, can contribute to back injuries. Examples include:

Conclude by stating, our backs constantly experience wear and tear resulting in deterioration over time. Life is just not very back friendly. Consequently, preventing back injuries in all areas of our lives is very important.

Tell the group that you would like to identify specific risk factors that increase the potential risk of back injury. Indicate the importance of knowing the risk factors by saying the reason we all need to know these risk factors is so we can avoid or minimize the potential of a back injury or further injury. Write these risk factors on a white board or flip chart for all to refer to during the discussion: (1) overexertion, (2) repetitive motion, (3) pulling rather than pushing, (4) twisting, and (5) awkward postures.

Point out that the risk of back injury is magnified many times when several risk factors are combined in a single effort. For example, repetitively lifting a heavy weight while twisting the back presents simultaneous multiple risk factors and must be avoided.

Ask what to do about the risk factors. Note that the best prevention for back injury is to remove the risk factors, so they cannot contribute to the possibility of a back injury. Risk factor removal means modifying how the task is accomplished. Examples include: use pad handles, so you do not put pressure on the palm of the hand; use a cart to assist with carrying a load; place needed items within 15 to 18 inches of a person's reach; or adjust the position of the part, rather than having the person assume an awkward position.

The objective of this part of the discussion is to identify how the back can be injured from overuse and by not eliminating back injury risk factors. Ask what tissues or parts of the back can be injured in a back injury. Record the group's answers on a flip chart or dry erase board. After the discussion, help clarify the issues by sharing the following information with the group:

Focus this part of the discussion on what each person can do to prevent back injury. Refer to the list of risk factors you previously wrote and ask the group what we can do as individuals to prevent injury to ourselves or to help others prevent injury. Write the group's ideas on a white board or flip chart.

The group should identify numerous ideas. Write them all down. If they overlook some ideas, see if you can ask additional questions that will encourage the creation of more ideas

Group actions

Urge group members to:

  1. Go back to their work areas and first identify the risk factors associated with their job functions;
  2. Propose process improvements to the supervisor and the safety committee that will eliminate or reduce the back injury risk factors, and help prevent back injury.

Conclude the discussion by saying all the risk factor education in the world will do no good, unless changes and improvements are incorporated into how you do your job or the efforts you undertake at home. Doing the same thing repeatedly may result in back injury.

For more information:

Contact your state Workers' Compensation or Safety agency

-- by Ted Ingalls, from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation Safety Leaders Discussion Guide, 2005