Emphasize classes less, workplace more

Answers to injuries are found on factory floor

The new study on the effectiveness of back schools shows conclusively that they are unreliable for preventing workplace injuries, the authors say. So instead of spending time, money, and effort on back education, they say occupational health providers should turn their attention to changing the work environment.

This is some of their advice:

Incorporate an ongoing exercise program.

Past research has proven that combining an exercise program with back education can have some effect in reducing workplace injuries, says Lawren H. Daltroy, DrPh, lead author of the study and associate director of the Robert Breck Brigham Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It is important that you actually get workers involved in an ongoing exercise program rather than just encouraging or prescribing exercise.

And even then, the back school/exercise combo is more likely to reduce sick days than result in reduced workers’ compensation costs.

Eliminate hazards, rather than telling workers to avoid them.

Since workers often feel pressured to lift hazardous loads even when they know they shouldn’t, it is more effective to eliminate the temptation altogether. Rather than using large bins and telling workers not to fill them completely or ask for help in lifting when the bin is full, just take away all the large bins. Provide only bins that are safe to lift when filled to capacity.

Focus education efforts on those already injured.

Research shows more value in educating those already experiencing low back pain, so Daltroy says it is more cost-effective and a better use of time to educate them instead of the entire work force.