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Back Pain Prevention: Minimize the Risk of Injury at Work

By: Ashley Lipman

You can get back pain and many other issues as you age, and they can all be worsened by your work conditions. Even a simple desk job can make your back pain worse if you aren’t careful, as well as the factors like age, weight, and your sleeping position.

You may already be experiencing some level of back pain at work, or you’re just generally concerned about preventing that from happening. Whatever the case, you can make sure your back problems stay to a minimum with just a few simple steps. Keep reading to find out what they are!

Get the Proper Back Support

Whether you’re sleeping or sitting on a desk, your back should be adequately supported and your posture should maintain the natural curvature of your spine. It should come as no surprise to you that the way you’re supported while you sleep has a very big influence on your back and your posture. Mike Calabrese, a licensed chiropractor in New York thinks that firm mattresses are your best bet against back pain.

This is what he said to Health in their article about top firm mattresses for back support: “A firm mattress helps support the spine’s alignment, and therefore prevents people from sinking into positions that cause back or joint pain.”

This is why it’s important to make sure your mattress isn’t too soft for you. In addition, make sure your office chairs provide the right amount and type of back support while you work.

Pay Attention to Posture

A lot of people have the unhealthy habit of slouching. It may be comfortable but it really isn’t a good idea when it comes to back pain and other issues. You need to make sure that you’re not slouching and to move around with your back in mind.

What we mean by this is that you shouldn’t be twisting and turning too much, and you should also make sure you pick up heavy items properly. Don’t try to push your limits and always use machinery for the labor intensive tasks if possible.

You can alternate between light and heavy tasks throughout the day, and you should take breaks when you feel tired or winded. Don’t push yourself when your body is telling you to stop, especially if you’re past your physical prime.

Take Breaks

If you’re spending too long on your office desk, make sure you get up often and walk around. Taking these breaks will give your back a much needed break and some change, and you’re welcome to stretch your muscles too while you’re at it.

It’s just as important for people who work on their feet all day to take breaks as it is for everyone who works in an office. If you’re a nurse, a construction worker, a cashier, or anyone who needs to stand around all the time, make sure you’re taking a breather often.

Position Your Desk Properly

If you’re always using the phone while you work, put it on speaker or use headphones so you won’t have to bend or sit in awkward positions to keep it on your ear while you type. Make sure that your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and all other desk equipment are placed properly on your desk to avoid too much twisting and tuning.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.