Whose got YOUR back?   We use the phrase to mean different things. And often, it is used to mean protecting someone from something or someone.  In this blog, it is meant literally. Who IS protecting your back? Are you training employees to avoid back injury? Are they practicing the techniques, consistently?   By making sure that formal and informal training is consistent and practiced, you are protecting YOUR back!

Liberty Mutual, the largest work comp provider, reported through their Workplace Safety Index that from 2015 – 2018, the total cost of 10 types of work events that caused disabling injuries was a staggering $58.5 Billion.  Of this amount, $13.7 Billion, 23.4%, was for overexertion (lifting, pushing, holding, carrying and throwing objects).  Disabling injuries are defined as ones which caused employees to miss 6 or more days of work.  Costs for these injuries included medical and lost wage payments

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America reported that back injuries lead to more lost days of work than any other kind of injury or illness.  Arbill, a leader in workplace safety, found that although the workplace is 1.5 % safer, the cost of most serious injuries has risen by 2.9%.

According to the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the number of back injuries in U.S. construction was 50% higher than the average for all other U.S. industries in 1999 (CPWR, 2002). Backaches and pain in the shoulders, neck, arms, and hands were the most common symptoms reported by construction workers in one study; and material handling incidents account for 32% of workers’ compensation claims in construction, and 25% of the cost of all claims.


To avoid back injuries, OSHA recommends that workers use these Lifting Procedures:

  • Use material handling equipment if something is too heavy or ask for help
  • Know your limits: Don’t lift loads beyond your capacity.  
  • Put one foot forward and bend knees, so they are perpendicular to the floor.
  • When lifting, maintain the normal back arch.  Put weight on the legs, not on feet or ankles.
  • Put the material down slowly.  Maintain the normal back arch.
  • Don’t twist the back.  Pivot with one foot and turn the whole body.
  • Don’t reach too high or if an object’s level is too high.


NIOSH and OSHA also suggest these Core strengthening and stretching exercises:

  • Abdominal contraction. Tighten stomach muscles slightly when lifting objects. To strengthen the abdomen, stand up straight and lock stomach muscles by pulling your rib cage and pelvis together. Hold for 12 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  • Lower back stretch. Lie on your back, legs extended. Bring knees to chest. Hold for several seconds, release. Repeat 3-5 times.
  • “Cat and dog” full backstretch. Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under hips. As you inhale, look up and drop your stomach towards the floor. As you exhale, release and come back to starting position. Slowly tuck your chin to your chest and round your spine, pull your stomach muscles in, and arch your back. Return to starting position. Repeat 3-5 times.


Besides using proper lifting procedures, exercises and stretches, work materials and tools should also support the goal of avoiding back injuries.

Materials:  Staging heavy materials like concrete and lumber close to where they will be used prevents and minimizes the threat of back injuries. If materials are stored materials at waist height, there is no need to bend and lift them.  Stack materials between knee and shoulder height improve accessibility and help avoid injury.

Padding:  Should be used as a cushion for shoulders when carrying the weight of items such as lumber.

Tools: Any kind of equipment or tool that can be used to avoid or reduce back strain should be used.

Panel carriers (to reduce bending), dollies, power equipment are some examples.  In general, tools and equipment that help avoid bending or lifting will protect the back.

Workers’ awareness and practicing safe behaviors are key to avoiding back injuries, but construction managers need to ensure that training and proper tools and equipment are available.   Staying safe is everyone’s job and a sure way to WATCH YOUR BACK !!