Back Pain

22nd August 2017

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Back pain

In August’s we will be looking at aspects associated with Lifting, brought on by the thought of lifting all those heavy holiday suitcases but actually supported by the high numbers of cases of injury caused by handling, lifting or carrying.

Following on from our last publication on Manual Handling we will be covering issues associated with Back Pain and Living with the condition.

Low back pain is common and can be extremely painful. It can be difficult to cope with the severe pain but fortunately it is rarely due to serious disease. The HSE advise that there are things that employers and workers can do to manage back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), in the workplace. People can be helped to remain in work or helped to make an early return to work.

Advice for employers
Advice to help you to comply with your legal requirements and minimise the risk to your employees of developing back pain or making existing back pain worse.

This information from the HSE is aimed at helping you to comply with your legal requirements and minimise the risk to your employees of developing back pain or making existing back pain worse.

Back pain in the workplace
Causes of pain
Back pain can be caused by many work situations. The exact cause is often unclear, but back pain is more common in roles that involve:

● heavy manual labour, and handling tasks in heavy industry;
● manual handling in awkward places, like delivery work;
● repetitive tasks, such as manual packing of goods;
● sitting at a workstation for a long period of time if the workstation is not correctly arranged or adjusted to fit the person, eg working with computers;
● driving long distances or driving over rough ground, particularly if the seat is not, or cannot be, properly adjusted or adequately sprung.
● operating heavy equipment, such as an excavator,
● stooping, bending over or crouching (poor posture);
● pushing, pulling or dragging loads that require excessive force;
● working beyond normal abilities and limits, and when physically overtired;
● stretching, twisting and reaching;

Consult your workers

● You have a legal duty to consult with all your employees or their elected representatives.
● Talking to your staff is good because they know what they find difficult and often have good ideas about how to improve things. Involving workers and safety representatives in discussions about how to improve health and safety will also make it easier to agree changes and workers will be more likely to follow procedures that they have helped to design.
● Some people are more susceptible to back pain than others, so it is important to consult employees in the risk assessment process.

Preventing back pain
What can I do to help protect workers?
The physical demands of some tasks like manual handling, lifting, bending and driving heavy vehicles can trigger an episode or make an existing back pain worse.

Take steps to reduce the risk of back pain in the workplace.

You could:
● Think about how you can make jobs physically easier, e.g. by moving loads on wheels, providing better handles on loads, adjusting heights of worktops etc.
● Consult regularly with the employees on their health and well being to help you identify concerns and developing trends.
● Take actions to address any outcomes from these discussions.
● Respond promptly when an individual worker reports back pain
● Do risk assessments – and make changes where needed.

Helping workers with back pain

Back pain advice for employers
● Make The Back Book available as this contains evidence-based advice for those suffering with pain on how best to cope.
● Record and analyse sickness absence
● Consider a contract with an occupational health provider or in-house occupational health professionals

Record and analyse sickness absence
Find out to what extent workers are reporting back pain symptoms and how much sickness absence is due to back problems. You may need to look at how you record and monitor sickness absence. This information will show whether you need to address further preventative measures.

Patterns may emerge that identify difficulties with specific jobs. You should review your risk assessments if this is the case.

Managing return to work
The longer a worker is off work with back pain, the less likely it becomes that they will return. However, by intervening early and putting in place return to work arrangements, you can avoid losing workers through long-term sickness.

● Always maintain regular contact with the absent employee so you can help them keep motivated and prepare the individual for their return.
● Prepare and agree a return to work plan (as a rough guide, for absences longer than about 2 weeks) with a goal for the individual to be back doing their original job after a certain number of days or weeks. A return to work plan should:
 be regularly reviewed to ensure that progress is made;
 provide helpful transitional work arrangements that may include a gradual increase in hours or allowing more time for certain tasks to be completed;
 be tailored to the individual.
● Consider modifying the job, work system or workstation if this would help.
● Sometimes simple adjustments can help the individual concerned and prevent others becoming ill or injured.

Causes of back pain
Back pain is more common in tasks that involve:

● lifting heavy or bulky loads;
● carrying loads awkwardly, possibly one handed;
● repetitive tasks, packing of products;
● long distance driving or driving over rough ground, particularly if the seat is not, or cannot be, properly adjusted;
● stooping, bending or crouching, including work at PCs (poor posture);
● pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads;
● working beyond normal abilities and limits;
● working when physically tired;
● stretching, twisting and reaching;
● prolonged periods in one position.

Warning signs
If you have severe pain which gets worse over several weeks, or if you are unwell with back pain, you should see your doctor.

Back pain is not usually due to any serious damage or disease. The pain usually improves within days or a few weeks, at least enough to get on with your life. Only a few people have back pain that is caused by a more serious issue such as a slipped disc or a trapped nerve and even these usually get better by themselves.

X-rays and MRI scans can detect serious spinal injuries which are very rare but they don’t usually help in ordinary back pain.

If you do have back pain and suddenly notice any of these symptoms, which are rare, you should see a doctor straight away:
● difficulty passing or controlling urine
● numbness around your back passage or genitals
● numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in both legs
● unsteadiness on your feet

Dealing with an attack of back pain
Sometimes the pain can make you miserable but you should still take control of the pain by trying to stay active and continue as normally as possible.

In the early stages:
● Rest may not help. Your back is designed for movement so the sooner you start doing your ordinary activities the better.
● Use pain killers, heat or cold applied to the sore area may help
● A short course of manipulation can help relieve back pain for some, if done by a qualified professional osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor
Next steps:
● Steadily increase your level of activity.
● Do a little bit more each day if the pain has been restricting your movement.
● Do not stay in one position for too long.
● Get up and stretch regularly.
● Move about and take some walks, building up your activity as you get stronger.
● Stay at work if you can to keep active and recover from the pain. If you have a lot of lifting or other risk factors in your job, talk to your supervisor or boss and tell them about tasks that will be difficult to begin with.
● Even if the pain is particularly severe and you are off work, you can still try to do most daily activities or hobbies.
● Don’t do one thing for too long. Keep changing your activities so that you are changing position and moving around from time to time.

Many of our courses include an element of lifting, so where applicable our presentations cover the relevant section of the LOLER regulation and how this relevant to the course begin delivered. We can also deliver various  Manual Handling courses, depending on your company requirements.

Back Pain

Throughout August we will be looking at aspects of Lifting, brought on by the thought of lifting all those heavy holiday suitcases but actually there are high numbers of case of injury caused by handling, lifting or carrying. According to HSE they estimate that 122,000 cases occurred between 2013-16, and we hope to help reduce this statistic.

We hope you have found this article on Back Pain of interest, and as always our office staff are available for you to Contact Us and happy to discuss any of your training queries.

Regards The Kentra Team

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