Like many in your profession, you may have heard people singing the praises of back belts. Apparently, the belts reduce force on the spine by increasing pressure around the abdomen. Workers who must do a lot of heavy lifting have taken a page from weight lifters who often sport the belts around the gym as they hoist massive barbells.
However, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, studies do not show evidence that back belts work, and they may even be dangerous. If you were wearing a belt at the time of your back injury, you may have been surprised and disappointed that the belt did not deliver the protection it promised.
A better alternative
If friends, co-workers or even your boss encouraged you to wear a back belt, they may have explained its supposed benefits. Some feel back belts stiffen your spine to prevent hyperextension. The belts are also supposed to restrict your movements and remind you to lift carefully. However, evidence of these claims is mostly anecdotal, and, in fact, some research shows that people who wear back belts may take far more chances with their spine than those who leave the belt in the locker.
While NIOSH allows that some may feel comfortable wearing the belt, the agency advises that back belts should not be a required (or sole) part of back safety on the job. Without a program of ergonomics, back belts offer no proven protection. Research shows that the following are much safer ways to prevent back injuries:
- Carefully evaluate tasks that may strain your back.
- Redesign any tasks that require twisting, bending, pushing or pulling.
- When lifting, keep loads close to your center of gravity.
- Use slides, hoists, pallet jacks or hand trucks for lifting and moving.
- Keep lifting tasks at the lowest possible weight.
If belts are the only method of back protection on your job site, perhaps your back injury may be incentive for your supervisor to consider some ergonomic changes.
The agony of a work-related back injury
If you injured your back despite wearing a back brace or following an ergonomic program, you understand the pain and frustration. The misery of a back injury can drag on for weeks or longer. Back injuries often require you to limit your movement to allow the injury to heal. Meanwhile, your bills continue to arrive, even if your paychecks have stopped.
You may be even more frustrated if you are also haggling with your boss or workers' compensation insurance for the benefits you need following your injury. Many in your situation turn the haggling over to a lawyer who has experience in obtaining justice for injured workers. An attorney will review the circumstances of your injury and go to bat for you so that you can concentrate on making the most complete recovery possible.