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HR Magazine, August 2001: - Back With a Vengence

HR Magazine, August 2001
August 2001
Vol. 46, No. 8
Back With a Vengence
Bad Back Risk Factors

While there is a lack of agreement over what specific events or stimuli might cause someone to suffer back problems, by examining the following risk factors you can determine if your workforce is particularly prone to such problems:

    Increasing age. Just like losing your hair with older age, you lose your ability to flex and bend the spine. However, the greatest number of injuries are incurred by workers between the ages of 25 and 44, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

    Prior episode. After one episode, the probability of additional occurrences down the road increases as much as fourfold.

    Time of Day. The back is more vulnerable during the early morning hours. There is an increased risk of disc problems when bending forward in the early morning, primarily due to increased fluid in the discs at that time. The probability of sprain and strain disorders is greatest between 6 and 11 a.m.

    Genetics. Back pain tends to run in families. Identical twin studies from Finland show that genetics is a much more important factor in disc degeneration than type of work or physical activity.

    Obesity. There is an increase in back pain prevalence with increasing obesity.

    Smoking. The risk of low back pain increases steadily with cumulative exposure and with the degree of maximal daily exposure.

    Gender. About two thirds of employees who suffer back injuries are male, according to 1999 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Industry. The service sector (116,000), manufacturing (89,000) and retail trade (71,000) reported the most back injuries in 1999, according to BLS.

There is, however, a correlation between certain industries, types of work and the likelihood that someone will file for workers compensation for a back injury. Three-fourths of claimants are men in physical jobs that require lifting, stretching and straining.

Workers in construction, health services (e.g. nurses) and trucking account for the highest percentages of costs for medical and wage replacement, according to Ted Courtney, associate director, Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health.

Robert J. Grossman

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