The largest single cost to employers is unproductive labor. This manifests itself through inefficiencies and poor controls of time management as well as through lost work time due to workplace injuries, primarily back pain.
According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains and strains, resulting in back pain, account for 43 percent of the 1.3 million injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work. This lost work time means reduced profitability for the employer.
Spring and summer brings increased activity in the landscaping and construction trades. Employees in these professions are at a disproportionately high risk for back pain secondary to sprains and strains not only for the physical nature of the work, but also due to relative idleness during the winter months followed by the aggressive schedule of spring and summer work.
The frustrating point for a business owner is the relative lack of control over this statistic. While you may not have direct control in keeping employees injury-free, you can help educate them by sharing some tips and tricks for preventing injury.
See the Signs
Understanding the warning signs of a potential back pain is far and away the No. 1 key to prevention. Knowing when to slow down or back off can save a lifetime of hurt. People often say that their back back just "went out" on them. "Doc, I just bent over and, 'pow,' I dropped to my knees." After discussing the facts with them, the doctor usually determined that the patient's body was sending warning signs for quite some time, and that this final episode did not just come out of the blue nor was it the result of bad luck.
Here are the more common warning signs:
• Unusual tightness in the top of the hamstrings
• Tightness in the lower back, usually more on one side than the other
• Soreness in the middle of the lower back, especially when bending back or standing from a sitting position
• Recent significant life stress, family, financial or health related
The hips, or pelvis, are connected to the abdominal muscles and thigh muscles in the front and connected to the lower back, gluteus and hamstring muscles in the back. Key elements in preventing back pain are keeping the feet in a wide position, moving your feet and relying on the large gluteus muscles to begin each movement. The best way to envision this is through an athletic analogy. Imagine your basketball or football coach telling you to stay low, move your feet, etc. This is sound advice whether on the athletic field or in the workplace. The bottom line is; To prevent back pain while performing manual labor, you should think like an athlete. Understanding proper lifting mechanisms is also an important and broadly misunderstood factor in preventing these injuries. Learning to "lift with your legs" is not enough training to make a difference. Nearly all athletic movements begin with the hips. Actions such as throwing a ball or swinging a bat or club, are initiated and controlled with the joints and muscles of the hips. The hips control all activities and movements of the body and, to minimize back pain, must be utilized properly during work.
Warm Up to Work
Current wisdom says that warming up your body's core at the beginning of the day and after lunch will increase blood flow to the muscles and ligaments. This preps the soft tissues of your body for increased physical stress of the job at hand. Although it may sound unusual, as little as three minutes of steady movement, such as brisk walk or light calisthenics, are all that is necessary to decrease the risk of injury.
Summing It Up
The three keys to reducing the inconvenience of workplace defects for those in the landscaping, construction and other seasonal outdoor industries are: understanding the warning signs, learning to use the body efficiently and warming up properly before each shift. A coordinated approach through initial education and ongoing encouragement is your most prudent investment towards minimizing the impact of injuries on your employees and your company.