Back pain is incredibly common, most people suffering from it at some point. However it is a significant (and therefore expensive) cause of both short- and long-term absence rates in the workplace, and can be caused or exacerbated by many workplace factors. Back pain is more common in roles that involve heavy manual tasks, lifting, repetitive tasks or lots of stooping, twisting or bending over, perhaps as would be expected, but is also common in roles involving long periods sitting or driving, so is certainly not confined to manual work environments.
Reducing the instances and impact of back pain starts with identifying where you are vulnerable, so keeping risk assessments current is crucial, as is consulting with employees. Different people find different tasks challenging, some are more susceptible to back pain than others, so involving them in the process of analysing risk and addressing is really important.
Once you’ve identified risks or potential risks there are several steps you can take to address them and reduce the likelihood of back problems affecting your staff. Consider how tasks that present risks are performed – could these be made easier in any way? This might involve changing how things are done, or making physical changes to the environment. Think about whether different or additional equipment is required. This could either be something for everyone to use, or something more specific for an employee who has been identified as being particularly at risk or susceptible to problems.
Make sure employees are properly trained in how to complete tasks which present a back pain risk, and in the use of any equipment you provide. Ensure equipment is actually used, and used properly, and refresh training regularly.
Encourage staff to report back pain promptly, and when this happens, respond in a timely manner.
Keep an eye on sickness absence rates including reasons for absence in different departments or amongst individuals performing similar roles, as this may help you identify a potential problem and put in place a solution quickly.
If a member of staff does experience either regular short-term or more significant long-term absence related to back pain, consult with an occupational health professional who can advise on adjustments that can be made to the role or workplace in order to enable your member of staff to return to work and to a normal absence rate as quickly as possible.
If you would like advice on health-related problems in your business, do get in touch.