Published: October 26, 2018


 By Roberto Portillo, CHST, BA, MA, MS

In 2014, while attending Indiana University to earn my master's degree in Safety Management, I wrote a research paper pertaining to Back Pain in the Construction Industry. In this article, I will share my findings to inform the audience on how to prevent back injury in their everyday lives.

At some point of their lifetime nearly all adults experience back pain in the work environment. A 1987 survey, involving 12 states, found that occupational back injuries were the most frequent work-related disorder, accounting for 22% of all the reported cases and 32% of all workers’ compensation dollars (Bernold, 2001). Back pain not only needs medical attention, but results in lost productivity. After the common cold, back pain is the second most common cause of sick leave at 40%.

What causes Back Pain?

The spine is one of the most important parts of the body as a lot of the motion is done with that part of the body throughout any given day, “The spinal column is a unique part of the skeletal structure, it not only provides support for the body, but it allows free movement of the upper trunk” (Bernold, 2001). Research has shown that construction has high incidence of back injuries due to physical stress on the body. In a typical day, a construction worker is frequently exposed to awkward work postures and physical demands that can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorder including back pain. Construction workers generally tend to work long hours with a lot of repeated activities including bending and twisting. When it comes to back pain and injuries, there are three different groups of potential risk factors:

  1. Individual Factors
    • Body Weight
    • Age
  2. Biomechanical Factors
    • Heavy Physical Load
    • Lifting
    • Twisted Postures
    • Vibration
  3. Psychosocial Factors
    • Job Control
    • Job Satisfaction
Prevention Programs

In the field of safety, when a trend is seen, a prevention program is put in place. A good program would offer employees a combination of education, training, physical fitness activities and ergonomic improvements. OSHA does not have an ergonomic standard, however, there are many tips and literature on the topic. OSHA mentions the components of an ergonomic program to reduce injuries need the following:

  • Management Commitment
  • Worker Involvement
  • Hazard Information and Reporting
  • Job Hazard Analysis and Control
  • Training
  • MSD Medical Management
  • Program Evaluation

In all the OSHA literature it mentions ergonomics giving the description of the word as fitting the job to the worker. In ergonomic program, there are three items that should be in place to address back injuries generally leading to the development of technological and managerial interventions:

  1. Simple to More Advanced Engineering Solutions
    • Development of tools
    • Lifting devices
  1. Administrative Controls
    • On-the-spot corrections
  1. Education and Training
    • Exercise Sessions
    • Proper Lifting Techniques

Back injuries can be reduced by planning, changing how the work is done, and training workers and supervisors. An integrated back injury prevention program includes everything that was previously mentioned. Each one supports the other to get the best results.