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.
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
loss of bladder or bowel control – peeing or pooing yourself
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 01268 649006.