A shocking 10 million working days are lost to back pain every year, which equates to £1 billion in lost earnings. Protecting your back at work can reduce these figures.
Chronic back pain is a debilitating condition which affects thousands of people in the UK, with those over 50 years being the most vulnerable. Not surprisingly, chronic back pain often develops from unsafe work practices.
But contrary to popular belief, it is not heavy lifting or manual labour that is causing the problem to occur in such staggering numbers. Millions of people have actually moved away from the factory floor into desk jobs in the last 30-40 years, and despite strict health and safety laws which have helped reduce the number of back injuries occurring as a result of prolonged sitting, the problem is still endemic.
Sitting is the new smoking
Experts believe the dramatic rise in chronic back pain is due to the general populations’ lack of movement and spending hours at a time sitting incorrectly. Office workers regularly ignore advice on sitting correctly and rising regularly to move, and organisations are not doing enough to enforce basic health and safety practices in the office environment.
The problem has become so bad that guidelines drawn up by international experts at the behest of Public Health England in 2015, recommended that office workers should stand for two hours a day to combat the risk of back and neck injury, increasing to four hours if their job is predominantly desk bound.
Other workers at risk of back injury
Ambulance staff, care workers, nurses, porters and domestic staff are also at risk of experiencing a back injury. Severe staff shortages often mean workers in these sectors often have to perform tasks under extreme time pressure, having to rely on an inadequate number of people to lift certain loads.
Lifting people was identified as one of the most common causes of back injury, affecting nurses and residential staff as well as other workers.
Half of accidents in nursing and residential homes result directly from manual handling.
How to prevent back injuries at work
Most back injuries are preventable. To protect your spine, it is imperative to practice good back care every day. Examples of preventative measures include:
In the office
- If you spend a majority of your time sitting at your desk, make sure you stand up every thirty minutes and move around.
- Your workstation must be stable, your seat height and its back adjustable and your feet able to rest flat on the floor to support your spine.
- Your bottom should be pressed against the back of your chair, and there should be a cushion that causes your lower back to arch slightly so that you don’t slump forward or slouch down in the chair throughout the day as you become more fatigued.
- When you look at your computer, your gaze should rest on the centre of your screen.
- The armrests of your chair should support your upper spine and shoulders by slightly lifting the arms.
- Bend your knees when lifting heavy objects.
- Try and use handles that have a good grip where possible.
- If no handles are available, use slings or hooks to move large loads.
- When carrying an object or load ensure you have adequate space to allow your entire body to turn if needed.
- Ask your employer to move shelves that require employees to bend down to retrieve objects.
Claiming compensation for a back injury
If you have received a back injury or are suffering from common back pain as a result of your occupation, you may be able to claim compensation from your employer. Your employer has a duty to ensure you are protected from injury while you are at work and if they fail to do so, they may be found guilty of negligence.
For example, if you have been supplied with an office chair and workstation that fail to meet health and safety regulation requirements and you can prove that as a result, you have developed chronic back pain, compensation may be awarded by the court or through a negotiated settlement.
Back pain can ruin lives and force people to give up jobs they love. Compensation can never entirely replace your health, but it can help alleviate the stress of any lost income and fund rehabilitation.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have received a back injury, please ask us for a free claim assessment so that you can understand your rights.