Washington State University

Revised 1-96
Reviewed 9-03
Environmental Health and Safety

Back Injury Prevention and Treatment

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The University seeks to reduce the number and severity of University-related back injuries by supporting programs for injury prevention, training, rehabilitation, ergonomics, and return-to-work. This section outlines procedures to follow in the event of a back injury and explains departmental and employee responsibilities for minimizing the possibility of back injury to University personnel. Refer below for definitions of back terms and parts.

First Aid
Stop all activity at the first sign of a back injury. Notify the supervisor and obtain medical attention.
Complete an Accidental Injury Report form. (See 2.24.) If medical treatment is required or more than four hours of time loss has occurred, the supervisor also completes a Supervisor's Report form. (See 2.26.) The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that corrective action has been initiated so that the accident does not reoccur.
Return to Work
See 2.32.
Job Safety Analysis
Completing a job safety analysis is an ideal way to evaluate repetitive operations with a potential for back injury to employees. A job safety analysis assists in setting departmental policies and training standards with respect to back injury prevention. See EH&S.
Supervisors are responsible for training their employees in proper lifting techniques, monitoring their performance, and making recommendations to reduce potential for back injuries.
Ergonomics are the effects of the work environment upon employees' physical and occupational health.

Supervisors are responsible for conducting ergonomic surveys of the workplace and providing any necessary recommendations to unit administrators for corrective action regarding equipment and facilities.
Chairs and directors are responsible for including the costs of ergonomic upgrades (e.g., money for anatomical chairs, materials handling equipment, computer tables) in departmental funding requests.
Preplanning Work Spaces
Items such as lift tables, hoists, conveyors, and elevators should be designed into remodeling or new construction. By incorporating these improvements into the basic design of the building or room, long term costs and accidents can be significantly reduced.
Materials Handling Equipment

Incorporate conveyor systems into operations to reduce materials handling.
Lift Tables
Hydraulic, spring loaded, or electric lift tables are available from materials handling distributors to elevate, lift or rotate heavy or bulky items.
Overhead cranes and portable hoists are available in several different configurations with various lifting capabilities.
Certain tools are available that have been ergonomically designed to reduce back strain, e.g., a snow shovel that has a bend in the handle.
Back Belts
Back belts are designed to support the back and abdomen and to facilitate the proper position for correct lifting. Back belts may vary with height and type of support, e.g., inflatable bladders, inserted stays.

Departments wishing to initiate a back belt program are to consult with Environmental Health and Safety prior to implementation.

Use of back belts is to be a part of a complete departmental back training program including:
Weight Limits for Lifting
There is no maximum weight limitation imposed by federal, state agencies or the University. The weight of the object is one of several factors that may contribute to a back injury. It is up to each department to set any weight lifting requirements after careful consideration of the jobs to be performed, the work environment, and employee capabilities. Departments should seek assistance from Environmental Health and Safety when setting departmental requirements.

Personal Responsibilities
Each employee is responsible for his or her own personal conditioning beyond what is provided by the ten-minute departmental stretching and stengthening session.

Every employee is responsible for reducing his or her chances of back injury by observing the following guidelines:
Reducing stress can minimize the amount of muscle constriction in the spinal column area. This in turn assists in back injury prevention. Several different on and off campus programs are available to assist with stress reduction. Contact Human Resource Services to obtain a resource list.
Cardiovascular Fitness
The vertebrae, disks and spinal cord require a constant supply of oxygenated blood in order to maintain good health. The spinal column benefits from a regular schedule of aerobic exercising, such as, walking or swimming. Employees should check with a physician to determine an appropriate form of aerobic exercise.
Weight Control
Additional pressure placed upon the spine of an overweight individual results in reduced abilities to lift heavy or bulky loads. Overweight employees may wish to check with a physician to determine whether a weight-control program is warranted. Health and Wellness Services provides information on weight control.
Proper posture promotes spinal column health. Avoid slouching. Keep the abdomen, buttocks and chin tucked in. Hold the head high while holding the shoulders slightly back. Adjust chairs and car seats to provide for an upright posture.
Muscle Strengthening
The amount and condition of muscle mass influence lifting ability. Proper strengthening and stretching exercises help reduce the potential for a back injury.
Job-Related Practices

Ergonomic Considerations

Foot Rests
The use of a small foot rest may reduce back fatigue. Placing the feet on a stool while sitting rotates the hips backward. Alternating the resting of one foot on a stool while performing counter work keeps the back muscles from tightening.
Chair Adjustment
Take the time necessary to make the proper chair heigh adjustments. Proper support of the back, legs, hips, neck and head reduces back fatigue.
Employees are responsible for using proper lifting procedures as described in this section and taught by supervisors.

See the PDF version of SPPM 2.76.6 for illustrated examples of "The Eight Commandments of Lifting."
The weight of an object is a major consideration in any lifting decision. It is important to try to determine this by looking at the shipping papers or label or by "test lifting" the object.
State of Object
Whether the contents of a package are solid, fluid, or limp influences how the item is lifted.
Size or Shape of Object
Evaluate an item's size and shape prior to lifting.
Asking for Help
Do not hesitate to ask for help to lift an item. It is better to inconvenience coworkers for a short time than to make them cover for an employee with a back injury. Two or more people of the same height working slowly at the same time help ensure safe lifting. One person should be in charge, giving the commands when and how to lift.
Preplanning the Lift
Spend a few moments planing the flattest, straightest, and clearest route. Move any objects that could trip a worker. Look for places to stop and rest. Ensure that resting places have areas to place the load. Make sure that the unloading area is clear.
From Floor
When lifting an item off the floor:
Loading Shelves
Load shelves with the heavy and bulkiest items at waist height. Place lighter items on the lower and upper shelves.
Hand Trucks and Carts
Utilize a materials handling device when an object is heavy, bulky, or to be moved a long distance, e.g., up stairs, down a hall, from one building to another, or to a vehicle. Do not overload a hand truck or cart. If needed, make two or more trips. Push the load in front rather than pulling it to reduce the potential of back strain.
Unloading Trucks
When a material handling device is being utilized to unload a truck, it is usually best to place the material to be moved at the door of the truck before placing it onto the handcart. If the object is too heavy to be moved by hand from the vehicle to the ground, use a vehicle with a powered lift gate (e.g., "Tommy Lift"). Do not lower a loaded hand truck from the vehicle to the ground. The use of a hand truck or cart to move material from the vehicle directly to a loading dock is acceptable and encouraged.
Closed Doors
When attempting to pass through a doorway with a loaded hand truck, wheel the hand truck to the side of the door and then open the door with a free hand. Pull the hand truck through the door.
Use appropriate equipment to reach items resting on platforms or shelves. Do not stand upon chairs or boxes. A rolling stairway with platform working surfaces, hand rails, and retracting rollers is recommended. When using a ladder, do not over-reach. Move the ladder closer to the load.
Slips and Falls
Slips and falls account for a large percentage of lower back injuries and related fatalities. Prevent slips and falls by keeping in mind the following:
Wear slip resistant shoes or boots outside when snow, ice, frost or wet leaves are present and inside when working in slippery damp or wet environments, e.g., barns, laboratories and kitchens.
Slow Down
Allow more time for travel during inclement weather.
Use extra caution when carrying items up or down stairs. Carried items should not obstruct the view. If possible, keep one hand free to use the hand rail.

Use an elevator to move items from one floor to another whenever possible. If an elevator is out of service, wait until it is repaired or obtain assistance from someone else to carry a bulky item up or down stairs.
Loading Docks
Use loading docks when moving bulky items in and out of buildings. Loading docks are to be kept obstruction free at all times. Identify storage areas in the vicinity of loading docks by using yellow and black diagonally striped tape.

Parking in front of loading docks is reserved for vehicles actively loading or unloading University materials.
Prolonged driving may cause back irritation to personnel with back injuries or those not used to long hours of driving. Minimize back irritation by:
Shoveling commonly aggravates back problems. Employees assigned to shoveling duties should be preconditioned to the activity. Preactivity stretching exercises and frequent stretch breaks may reduce back fatigue.

Lift the load using the leg and arm muscles rather than back muscles. Apply the same techniques as for lifting of loads from the floor (see above).
Jumping out of or off of vehicles can cause injury. Step off of vehicles using available steps or bumpers.
Poor lighting can be a contributing cause of accidents which result in back injuries. Ensure that the lights are on before entering an area. Do not enter an area if lights are inoperable. Report the problem to Facilities Services, Operations.
Washington Administrative Code
WAC 296-24

WAC 296-155
National Safety Council - Fact Sheets

The vertebrae are a series of 33 bones that provide protection for the spinal cord. The vertebrae also help to support the portion of the body between the head and the pelvis. Twenty four of the vertebra are independent while eleven are fused together to form the tail bone.
A series of 24 pieces of fluid-filled cartilage that cushion the vertebrae. These discs can rupture (herniate) and lose fluid if subjected to too much pressure during lifting or twisting.
Supporting Muscle
A complex mass of muscle that supports the spine. These muscles provide assistance to other muscles in the legs and abdomen when lifting objects. If these muscles are not kept in condition, they can be damaged during lifting.
Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that run through the spine from the brain. Damage may occur when the vertebra, disks or back muscles are injured. Such damage can be permanent, causing severe lifestyle changes.
Conductors of electrical signals from the spinal cord to the muscles within the body. Thirty-one pairs exit from between the vertebrae and go out into the body.
A rupture in the abdominal wall caused by strains from lifting.