Earlier studies question the value of back belts

Much of the literature prior to the UCLA study questioned the effectiveness of back belts in preventing injury.

Here are a few examples:

• The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Washington, DC, reported in 1994 that there is no evidence that back belts lessen the risk of back injury. In fact, back support belts may actually increase the risk of back injury because workers think they can lift more.

The NIOSH report, Workplace Use of Back Belts: Review and Recommendations, includes these findings:

1. There is little research on the effectiveness of back belts.

2. The few studies that have addressed the effectiveness of back belts suffer from design flaws that render them unable to either prove or disprove the effectiveness of back belts.

3. Most of the existing studies did not evaluate the type of industrial back belt that is most widely used.

The NIOSH report stops short of saying back belts are useless, but it urges better research. Until evidence proves the effectiveness of belts, NIOSH recommends relying more on ergonomics, training, surveillance, and medical management.

• A study from the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City determined that back belts aren’t as effective as many employers think, and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in Fairfax, VA, warned against their use.1 Partly as a result of investigations by its ergonomics committee, the AIHA issued a statement saying it "does not support the use of back supports/belts and wrist orthotics for prevention but only when prescribed by health care providers for treatment of specific disorders."

• A frequently cited study questioning the use of lifting belts involved 642 baggage handlers working for American Airlines.2 Baggage handlers at four airports were issued back belts and instructed in the proper use of the belts and in overall back safety. After eight months of using the belts during normal work activities, the employees were interviewed and asked to complete a questionnaire.

The results did not support the use of lifting belts. There were 28 lumbar injuries during the study period, five of which occurred while the worker was wearing the lift belt.

References

1. Mitchell LV, Lawler FH, Bowen D, et al. Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of employer-issued back belts in areas of high risk for back injury. J Occ Med 1994; 36:90-94.

2. Montgomery JF, Safety Department, American Airlines, and Reddell CR, Congleton JJ, Huchingson RD, Industrial Engineering Department, Texas A&M University. An Evaluation of a Weight-Lifting Belt and Back Injury Prevention Training Class for Airline Baggage Handlers. Dallas and College Station, TX; January 1992.