Risk ControlBack Injuries: Risk Factors and PreventionIntroductionAccording to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the average direct cost (medical and indemnity)of a low back injury claim is $15,500. In California, the average cost of a back injury claim in 2002 was$47,938! These costs do not reflect the additional indirect costs of an injury, such as production downtime,administrative expense, employee retraining, and quality issues. Back injuries are disruptive. They can bepainful and costly. But they don’t have to be. Back injuries are preventable.Risk FactorsA number of personal and occupational factors contribute to the potential for back injuries. Personal factorsinclude poor physical fitness and lack of exercise, poor posture, psychosocial factors, lifestyle choices, such assmoking and poor diet/nutrition, stress and prior back problems. Age also can be a contributing factor.Degeneration of the spine, due to aging, can be a major contributor to lower back injuries. However, someresearch studies indicate that most back injury claims are made by people ages 25 to 45. Occupational factorsinclude heavy lifting, awkward lifting positions, repetitive lifting, overexertion, prolonged sitting, poor ergonomicworkplace design and other issues such as vibrations, temperature extremes and slippery walking surfaces.Risk Control ProgramA comprehensive back injury prevention program can help companies effectively control the potential riskfactors and costs of back injuries. Best practice programs include employee education, including educationabout the anatomy of the back, identification and control of job risk factors, instruction in proper posture andsafe lifting techniques and safe work practices.Personal Behavior StrategiesEmployees can do many things in their personal lives to help reduce the likelihood of back injury. Theseinclude:• Maintaining good posture in all activities, including standing, sitting, driving and sleeping.• Strengthening abdominal muscles through exercise.• Getting adequate rest.• Reducing tension and stress.• Exercising regularly.Helpful Lifting StrategiesLifting strategies can help employees avoid putting undue strain or stress on their back muscles or spine.Recommended techniques include:• Thinking through the lift before beginning.• Bending knees. Using the legs, not the back, for the lift.• Keeping the natural “S” curve in the back throughout the lift.• Grasping the load firmly.