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Administrative and engineering controls can save your back

One of the primary safety challenges in all industries in the country, including in Minnesota, is to prevent back injuries. Not only do these cause business expenses totaling billions of dollars each year in workers' compensation claims, but they also result in much pain and suffering to millions of employees. Safety authorities identified manual materials handling as the primary cause of back injuries -- the majority affecting lower backs -- with most injuries occurring during lifting.

If your job requires you to lift, place, carry, hold and lower objects of different shapes, sizes and weights it can cause excessive strain on your lower back muscles. To manage this workplace injury threat, your employers must evaluate factors such as the frequency, duration and types of lifts, along with your body size, age, gender, and overall level of health and physical fitness.

Suggested solutions

The search continues for a way to entirely eliminate back injuries in materials handling. However, with proper safety training, ergonomics and effective control, fewer injuries may occur. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests the implementation of the following two types of controls:

Administrative controls

These procedures require careful selection and training of employees, and they typically include the following:

  • Testing the strength of existing employees
  • Basing the allocation of tasks on the strength capabilities of each worker
  • Providing training in lifting techniques that will limit stress on lower back muscles
  • Encouraging physical fitness and stretching programs before work to lower risk of muscle injuries

Engineering controls

These involve the restructuring of jobs to better fit the workers' physical abilities and limitations. Some examples include:

  • Reducing the size and weight of objects
  • Setting maximum allowable weights for employee tasks
  • Considering the compactness, stability and presence of handles on packages
  • Adjusting storage heights for easier handling
  • Installing conveyors, pneumatic lifts and other equipment for automated handling

An ergonomic assessment of your workplace environment will show how your surroundings can be adapted to fit your physical capabilities. Important factors in lifting are avoiding lifting anything that is located below the level of your knees or above the level of your shoulders. Furthermore, objects that you cannot hold against your body are most likely to cause back muscle strain.

Muscle sprains and strains do not always cause injuries that are instantly debilitating. In some cases, pain develops over time. Whichever way you are suffering the consequences of repetitive lifting in an uncontrolled workplace environment, you would be advised to seek medical attention at the first sign of discomfort in your back muscles. Early intervention may prevent years of chronic pain. You can recover any medical expenses by filing a claim for benefits with the Minnesota workers' compensation insurance program.

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Law Office of David M. Bialke
7260 University Avenue NE
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Fridley, MN 55432

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