Are you a "back belt" expert? Is that enough to protect your back?
Back injuries are consistently one of the top-ranking worker compensation claims, so it's worth paying attention to preventive measures such as back supports.
Back supports describe a range of products including both the nylon corset-style back supports worn by workers - often called back belts - as well as back supports that you attach to an office chair to ensure ergonomic positioning and avoid repetitive strain injuries.
More than 70 types of industrial back belts are on the market. In 1995, four million back belts were purchased for workplace use, according to NIOSH data.
Regardless of type, back supports are meant to be a supplemental, and not a primary, strategy for protecting your back and improving workplace safety.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) goes as far as to warn employers not to rely on back belts for injury prevention.
Instead, NIOSH advises that the first defense against back injuries should be to develop a comprehensive ergonomic program to address the circumstances and environments that can lead to injury on the job - such as introducing measures that reduce the risks of heavy or unsafe lifting.
Back supports could create a false sense of security
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) defines belts that are worn as back supports to be medical devices that should be prescribed by a physician for medical reasons only.
OSHA does not qualify back belts as personal protective equipment, nor does it endorse their use for the prevention of back injuries.
But neither does OSHA forbid the use of back belts.
And many workers, and their employers, continue to believe back supports offer protection while lifting. (Some employers actually require that workers wear back belts on the job.)
In reality, the use of back supports doesn't fix unsafe tasks. In fact, back supports may create a false sense of security, leading to injury by encouraging excessive heavy lifting and weakened muscles.
A better strategy, as proposed by OSHA, is to strengthen the back with four exercises for good back care - in combination with an ergonomic workplace strategy that discourages unsafe lifting, twisting, bending and reaching.
Although OSHA does not recommend back belts for lifting, it does endorse the use of removable cushions as back supports for your workstation chair or the seats in your work vehicle. Removable back supports, offering lumbar support, can help maintain the natural curve of the spine - an essential element of ergonomic workplace safety.