Watch your back! Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Back Injuries

Almost a quarter of WorkSafeBC’s small business claims are due to overexertion. The term overexertion applies to sprains, dislocations and fractures that result from excessive physical effort, such as lifting, lowering, pulling, pushing or carrying an object. Those of you who have ever “tweaked” something know that many of these injuries involve the back.

Back injuries are complicated. There are many variables that contribute to a back injury, from the size and shape of the load being handled to the position of the load. But how can you tell if your exertions are overexertions?

At the risk of sounding cliché, there’s an app for that – well, a calculator actually. WorkSafeBC’s Lift/Lower calculator and Push/Pull calculator can help you assess your risk of overexertion and give you tips to prevent injuries.

As a small business owner, your work involves a wide variety of tasks and many of these tasks may require awkward postures, forceful exertions, repeated movements, and sometimes exposures to heat and cold — all risk factors for developing overexertion injuries.  Here are 10 tips that could help reduce your chance of injury.

10 Tips for Minimizing Overexertion

  1. Notice fatigue and discomfort. Don’t lift if you’re too tired or uncomfortable.
  2. Know your body and use good body mechanics. Keep your back and neck straight, don’t twist and keep your head up.
  3. Plan what you want to do ahead of time and don’t be in a hurry. Rushing tasks will reduce your concentration and may cause you to slip or not use the correct lifting and moving techniques.
  4. Keep objects as close to you as possible and use both hands with lifting.
  5. Avoid bending at the waist for prolonged periods of time.  This puts a large amount of strain on your spine and surrounding soft tissues. Instead:
    • Raise the work, so you don’t have to bend.
    • If you have to work at lower levels for any period of time, sit on a stable stool.
    • Avoid storing materials at ground level.
  6. Minimize overhead lifting and reaching that causes the back to arch. Excessive arching places stress on the small joints of the spine and places additional strain on the neck and shoulders.
    • If you have to work overhead, get as close to your work as possible by standing on a platform or ladder.
    • Take frequent breaks by lowering your hands and periodically bending forward with your hands on your knees to stretch out your back.
  7. Move your feet. Avoid standing in one spot while working. This can force you to repeatedly bend and twist.
  8. Take a break every two hours. When you take a break, change your position, walk around and stretch.
  9. Reduce your load. It is better to make more small trips than one big trip with an oversized load.  Be sure to divide your load into smaller boxes if you can.
  10. Get help. If something is too awkward or too heavy to move by yourself, find a colleague to help.

For More Information

Check out WorkSafeBC’s Ergonomics Portal for resources and more tips on how to avoid overexertion.