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Back Injuries

Real Life Claims: A YMCA summer camp cook severely injured his back while lifting a 20-25 pound case of food. The employee experienced crippling numbness in his right leg and debilitating lower back pain. Despite several weeks of physical therapy, the Y employee slipped and fell at home due to the numbness in his leg. Ultimately, several rounds of steroid injections and rigorous physical therapy were needed before the man was able to return to full duty at the summer camp.

Statistics and Scope of Exposure

According to a study from the University of Wisconsin, medical care and disability payments for back pain cost Americans an estimated $15 billion every year. With more than six million cases reported annually, low back pain remains one of the most common complaints expressed to physicians. Unfortunately, aquatic and fitness facilities are a breeding ground for severe back, neck, and shoulder injuries. This list highlights the most common contributing factors to back injuries and how they might correspond with typical job duties:

Contributing Factor

Common Job Duties

Heavy Lifting Lifting pool chemicals; re-racking free weights
Pushing or applying force Moving lane lines; moving fitness equipment
Frequent bending and twisting Aerobic instruction; lifting small children; shoveling snow
Awkward standing and posture Lifeguarding; facility maintenance
Sudden load bearing Spotting a weight lifter or gymnast
Repetitive work Swiping membership cards; folding towels; janitorial work
Fatigue Lifeguarding; aerobic instruction; coaching


Safety Tips

As the table illustrates, a number of common job duties can cause or exacerbate a back, neck, or shoulder injury. These techniques are applicable to a wide variety of job tasks and can significantly reduce injuries:

Avoid heavy and repetitive lifting.

Make carts or dollies readily available to employees to reduce the need to carry heavy loads for long periods of time. Heavy objects that are moved on a regular basis (i.e., pool chemicals, free weights, salt, etc.) should be stored at waist level. Train employees in proper lifting techniques for occasions when bending cannot be avoided. Proper technique consists of getting as close to the object as possible, using the entire palm of the hand to grip the load, lifting gradually from the legs and abdominals, and maintaining a balanced stance with feet at shoulder width.

Minimize bending and twisting.

Bending and twisting while carrying heavy loads places remarkable levels of added pressure on the lower back muscles. Train employees to lift objects slowly and always keep loads as close to the body as possible. Fewer injuries occur when weight is distributed evenly throughout the entire body. Daycare or child drop-off employees need to be especially careful when picking up children. Kids are often much heavier than they appear and most people use improper technique to lift a child. Also consider the extreme force placed on the back muscles when shoveling snow; a snow blower can minimize this exposure.

Promote exercise and wellness.

A strong core and healthy lifestyle have a major impact on an individual’s susceptibility to back injury. Statistics show that overweight individuals and smokers are far more likely to suffer a back injury on the job than their healthy counterparts. Encourage your staff to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising regularly.

Topics: Human Resources