For decades, workers in all occupations have relied on back belts for support while doing heavy lifting or other strenuous work. The theory behind the back belt is that it reduces the force on your spine when you lift or pull and reminds you to lift properly to avoid injuring your back.
However, the proponents for the use of back belts likely base their advocacy on theories, not on research. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reviewed reports and information concerning the benefits of back belts, and its conclusions may surprise you.
True protection for your back
Despite the popularity of back belts among weight lifters, baggage handlers and warehouse workers, there is no definitive connection between the use of back belts and the reduction of back injuries on the job. In fact, NIOSH concludes that back belts may not provide any support or protection except on those work sites where safety training and ergonomic awareness are also in place.
Instead of spending money on back belts that offer no proven protection, NIOSH recommends that companies put their resources into ergonomics programs for more complete measures of safety. Ergonomic programs begin by evaluating the tasks you do and organizing the work to reduce risks to your back. Ergonomic methods include:
- Keeping loads closer to your body
- Keeping loads between your shoulder and your knuckles
- Avoiding twisting motions when lifting
- Allowing gravity to move loads
- Using tools such as hoists, slides, chutes and hand trucks to move loads
- Reducing the weight of loads as much as possible
One problem with wearing a back belt is that you may depend on the anecdotal evidence that the belt will safeguard you against injury, and you may be tempted to lift or move heavier objects than you would if you weren't wearing a belt. If you want to wear a back belt on the job, NIOSH believes it should be your choice. However, if your employer insists that you wear a back belt and does not include ergonomic protection, you may be at risk of hurting your spine.
Your choice and your advocate
If you injure your back on the job, you will probably worry that medical bills will pile up while you are unable to work. Fortunately, workers' compensation will provide you with funds to cover your lost wages and health care expenses.
Since a back injury will likely make it difficult for you to address the complicated tasks that are part of the workers' compensation process, having an attorney on your side may be helpful to you. An attorney who is dedicated to giving personal attention to injured clients will make sure everything possible is done to obtain the maximum benefits you need for your recovery.