Back Pain

Back Pain

As an employer, you must protect workers from the risks of developing back pain caused by work. There are things that both you and your workers can do to manage back pain in the workplace.

You must:

  • avoid work activities that can cause back pain, where reasonably practicable
  • where the activity can't be avoided, assess it to see what you can do to reduce the risk of back pain
  • apply the control measures you have identified and monitor and review them to make sure they are working
  • consult your workers and, if they have health and safety concerns, do something about them

Causes of back pain at work

Some work tasks can cause back pain or make existing pain worse:

  • lifting heavy or bulky loads
  • carrying loads awkwardly, possibly one-handed
  • pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads
  • manual handling in awkward places, such as during delivery work
  • repetitive tasks, such as packing products
  • bending, crouching or stooping
  • stretching, twisting and reaching
  • being in one position for a long time
  • working beyond your capability or when physically overtired
  • working with display screen equipment (with poor posture)
  • driving long distances or over rough ground, especially if the seat is not, or cannot be, properly adjusted or operating heavy equipment (for example excavators)

A major reason for developing back pain is having had a previous episode, particularly if it was recent. How the work is organised (for example, high workloads, tight deadlines, lack of control of the work and working methods) can also have an impact.

Manage the risk of back pain

You can reduce the risk of back pain in your workplace:

  • identify what activities can cause back pain and decide whether they can be avoided or changed
  • ask your workers for input - they have first-hand knowledge of the work and can suggest changes
  • think about how you can make jobs physically easier, for example, by moving loads on wheels
  • make sure controls, for example lifting aids, are available, used and maintained
  • look for signs of back pain among your workers, such as a reluctance to do a particular task, which may suggest your controls are not working
  • encourage them to report problems early to you or their worker representative so they get the right help

People with back usually recover completely if the problem is recognised early and treated appropriately.

What is causing my back pain?

It's often not possible to identify the cause of back pain. Doctors call this non- specific back pain.

Sometimes the pain may be from an injury such as a sprain or strain, but often it happens for no apparent reason. It's very rarely caused by anything serious.

Occasionally back pain can be caused by a medical condition such as:

  • a slipped (prolapsed) disc - where a disc of cartilage in the spine presses on a nearby nerve
  • sciatica - irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet

These conditions tend to cause additional symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation, and they're treated differently from non-specific back pain.

Preventing back pain

It's difficult to prevent back pain, but the following tips may help reduce your risk:

  • do regular back exercises and stretches - a GP or physiotherapist may be able to advise you about exercises to try
  • stay active - doing regular exercise can help keep your back strong; adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week
  • avoid sitting for long periods
  • take care when lifting - read some safe lifting tips
  • check your posture when sitting, using computers or tablets and watching television - find out how to sit correctly and get tips for laptop users
  • ensure the mattress on your bed supports you properly
  • lose weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise if you're overweight - being overweight can increase your risk of developing back pain

When to get immediate medical advice

You should contact a GP or NHS 111 immediately if you have back pain and:

  • numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks
  • difficulty peeing
  • loss of bladder or bowel control - peeing or pooing yourself
  • chest pain
  • a high temperature
  • unintentional weight loss
  • a swelling or a deformity in your back
  • it does not improve after resting or is worse at night
  • it started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
  • the pain is so bad you're having problems sleeping
  • pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing
  • the pain is coming from the top of your back, between your shoulders, rather than your lower back

These problems could be a sign of something more serious and need to be checked urgently.

Getting help

Employers may be able to refer employees to an occupational health provider for some advice. They can:

  • assess symptoms and may diagnose a specific condition
  • ask about work tasks to try and identify anything contributing to the problem
  • provide fitness-to-work advice, including any restrictions or adaptations needed
  • provide treatment recommendations, such as physiotherapy

If your workplace does not have this type of support, see your GP to explain your symptoms and the type of work that you do.

You can also contact these organisations

  • Fit for Work for free, confidential and impartial work-related health advice to employers and employees
  • Healthy Working Lives, the free Health for Work Adviceline in Scotland
  • Healthy Working Wales, the free Health for Work Adviceline for Small Business in Wales

Source: The Health and Safety Executive/ NHS

Should you require any further information, clarification or assistance please contact us on info@wpsafety.co.uk or 01268 649006.