Workers warned of ignoring these risks for long-term back problems – as problem sees 28% increase from 2019

According to the World Health Organization, 1.7 billion people across the globe are impacted by musculoskeletal conditions. Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries.

In addition to this, workers being on long term sick due to back problems has risen 28% from 2019 to 2023 according to ONS data. 2023 saw 778,786 cases of long-term economic inactivity due to health problems relating to neck or back problems, take a look at the data below:

Date

WORKER PROBLEMS OR DISABILITIES CONNECTED WITH BACK OR NECK

2019

778,786

2023

995,378

ONS data, 2023

Whilst lifestyle factors and pre-existing medical conditions will account for some of these cases, there are many instances where back problems can be avoided by good working practices by staff and employers. Health and safety expert at Blue Trolley, David Davies, has shared his advice below for what employees and employers should watch out for to prevent back problems at work.

The biggest risks of back problems at work

Not receiving health and safety training

Not having the right training can lead to improper practices and employees working blindly without being aware of the risks they face at work. Whether manual workers who regularly work actively during shifts and move heavy goods or office workers undertaking sedentary roles, it is the responsibility of the employer to make clear any risks and train staff on safe working practices.

Lifting beyond your weight limits

If you haven’t received training, you may be unaware of your physical capabilities. For employers, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require you to assess the risks to the health and safety of your workers. Where this identifies hazardous manual handling of loads, you should also comply with the Manual Handling Operations Regulations. According to the guidelines, the highest weight men should lift at work when carrying loads near the body and at about waist level is 25kg. This is reduced to 5kg for loads that are held far from the body and/or at or above shoulder level.

Poor posture at your desk

We can all be guilty of slouching when sitting at desks and neglecting our chair backsupport, but long-term this can prove problematic for your health. Having a chair which is adjustable and has the correct lumbar support will ensure your back stays in better condition for endured periods of sitting. You may also look at standing desks as a way to spend less time sitting for increased health benefits. Talk to your HR representative for a workplace assessment to consider your options.

Handling heavy goods without supporting equipment

Cutting corners and not making use of safety equipment is a sure fire way to risk injury in the workplace. When it comes to lifting heavy goods, you should always make use of trolleys or other lifting machinery where possible so you don’t take the lifting risk onto your own shoulders. Speak to your employer about supportive equipment that can be provided if this is not already offered.

Manual work for prolonged periods of time

Repetitive manual tasks pose greater risk to your back as there is more endured strain and less breaks within the activity you are undertaking. Employers should factor in break times to give workers a rest from repetitive manual tasks and ensure staff do proper warm ups before getting started. Manual work can be equivalent to a workout and you wouldn’t take on a big workout session without doing warm-ups and cool downs, the same advice applies here.

Twisting your back when lifting

This is one of the most dangerous mistakes you could make at work and one all workers who lift items need to be aware of. Twisting can lead to severe pain and cause hernias, nerve damage and serious back problems which could be life changing.

Poor lifestyle choices

It’s already known smoking and consuming alcohol can be detrimental to your health, these lifestyle choices additionally increase your risk of back problems in the longer term. Along with poor diet and exercise, not maintaining a healthy lifestyle can take its toll and impact your physical ability to work. Reducing these factors will lead to less health risk and more chance of recovery, depending on the health complaint, if you did sustain injury or develop back problems from your job.

What employers can do:

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment that reduces employee risk of health problems. Assessments should be done for all employees and employers should be aware of any pre-existing medical conditions that could make an employer have a higher risk of injury. Conducting risk assessments and being flexible to meet your employees’ needs means you can ensure they are able to work effectively for you and could reduce them taking extended time off if they are not able to work in less accommodating work environments.