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Do you want to see back injury rates plummet?
Find out underlying reasons
Why is it that back injuries are one of the most costly and common worker's compensation injuries? "There are a lot of factors associated with back injuries that create tough challenges," according to Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, an occupational health nurse at PureSafety in Franklin, TN.
Dayvault points to research stating that three primary reasons for work-related injuries among health care workers are organizational factors, environmental factors and personal factors.1
"I believe all of these factors are relative to industry as a whole," says Dayvault. For example, not having adequate time, insufficient or inadequate equipment, fewer employers to adequately perform a task, and pressure to meet deadlines are examples of organizational factors.
Also, many types of industry have areas in their workplace with limited space, and lack the proper tools to adequately perform a job safely in these areas.
The researchers noted that the most common personal factor associated with a back injury is a previous back strain or injury. "This is a factor experienced across industry type as well as in healthcare occupations," says Dayvault. "When an aging workforce and the obesity epidemic are factored in, it is easy to understand some of the tough reasons behind the challenges in reducing injuries." She recommends these approaches:
Work with safety professionals to observe tasks.
"This can be accomplished during a walkthrough," says Dayvault. Identify tasks which include awkward positions, heavy loads and defective equipment. Then, identify jobs, tasks, or individuals at risk.
"Develop a strategy for effectively addressing each of these areas to reduce injuries, specifically back injuries," says Dayvault.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006, back injuries alone accounted for 21.2% of lost time injuries with days away from work.
"Through observing employees perform their job and understanding the impact of the job tasks on the back, a plan for intervention can be developed that meets workplace health and safety objectives," says Dayvault.
Get insight about the problem areas of the job from an employee.
"It is important to have interaction with employees regarding specific jobs and tasks," says Dayvault. "Having conversations with both previously injured and non-injured employees about tasks can provide a wealth of information."
By having a conversation with previously injured employees, you can arrive at the root cause of a back injury. This may involve poor design, required productivity, or employees required to use inadequate or poorly kept tools.
"Understanding how specific injuries have occurred will help develop a strategy of prevention," says Dayvault. By interviewing employees who are currently performing the job, insight can be gained of how injury is avoided. This can help employees who currently perform a job associated with a high back injury rate.
"Through observing employees performing their job and understanding the impact of the job tasks on the back, a plan for intervention can be developed that meets workplace health and safety objectives," says Dayvault.
Use statistical data from the first report of injury, as well as diagnoses from health care claims and associated costs.
It is best to use data from both resources, as back injuries may have occurred among workers who were hesitant or discouraged from reporting workplace injuries, Dayvault explains.
"Cost information is important to show upper management the impact of injuries on the bottom line," says Dayvault. "Having the ability to show return on investment speaks volumes. This may be necessary to bring about change." This is especially true if there are significant costs related to programs aimed at reducing back injuries.
Involve other professionals.
Use other experts as your resources, such as ergonomists and other occupational health professionals. "They can assist with understanding the full impact of the task on the human body, as well as developing prevention strategies," says Dayvault.
Other members of the management team should also be included, especially if cost and workplace design are going to be impacted. "Physical therapists can offer insight in needs for work hardening programs to assist injured employees, or as an aid in reconditioning employees who have been absent for an extended period of time," adds Dayvault.
1. Springer PJ, Lind BK, Kratt J, et al. Preventing employee injury: implementation of a lift team. AAOHN J 2009; 57(4):143-148.
For more information on prevention of back injuries, contact:
Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, Occupational Health Nurse, PureSafety, Franklin, TN. Phone: (615) 312-1242. Fax: (615) 367-3887. E-mail: kathy.dayvault@ puresafety.com.