November 7, 2017

The High Risk of Back Injuries Among Construction Workers

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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In addition to other common construction site accidents, construction workers in New York City and across the country face a higher risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder than all other workers combined. So concludes a recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training. These work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) cost over $46 million in 2014 wages, the last year for which such statistics are available, and back injuries accounted for 40 percent of these disorders, particularly among older workers and workers who had been on the job for over five years. defines an MSD as an injury or disorder that affects movement of the body’s musculoskeletal system; that is, the muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, nerves and discs. Common types of MSDs include tendonitis, ligament sprains, tendon and muscle strains, and degenerative disc disease, any of which can be caused by constant exposure to workplace risk factors such as being required to constantly repeat the same motions, carry high-force loads, and/or maintain awkward postures. All of these activities place excessive force on your joints and overload the muscles and tendons associated with them.

When your body is repeatedly exposed to these risk factors, you and your body begin to experience fatigue. Once that fatigue outruns your body’s ability to recover, the result is a musculoskeletal imbalance. This, in turn, eventually becomes an MSD since your body’s natural recovery system is constantly being outdistanced by these injuries. It is not surprising that MSDs are often called repetitive motion injuries, overuse injuries, repetitive stress injuries, etc.

Alarming Statistics reports these alarming back injury statistics:

  • Over one million workplace back injuries occur every year in the United States.
  • These back injuries account for 20 percent of all workplace illnesses and injuries.
  • Lifting and handling workplace equipment and materials cause 80 percent of these injuries.
  • After the common cold, back injuries are the most common reason why workers miss work.
  • Back disorders account for nearly one quarter of occupational injuries and illnesses necessitating time away from work.
  • On average, a worker requires 12 days to recuperate from a work-related back injury.
  • Low back pain is the single leading cause of workplace disability.
  • Over $50 billion is spent each year to treat back pain.

The main causes of workplace back injuries and illnesses are repeated heavy lifting, lifting and twisting at the same time, constant pulling and tugging, sudden body movements, bending for long periods of time, and whole body vibration resulting from the use of tools and equipment such as jackhammers.

Construction Worker Back Injuries and Pain

The Center for Construction Research and Training states that as far back as 2010, a survey of construction workers revealed that over 33 percent reported having experienced back pain within the past three months. The highest proportion of these were workers between the ages of 35 and 54.

Glass and glazing workers were most at risk, accounting for 97.8 back injuries per 10,000 hours worked on a full-time basis. Masonry workers came in second, with 45.3 back injuries per 10,000 hours of full-time work.

Preventative Measures

Over time, back injuries tend to reoccur, increasing in both severity and the rate of reoccurrence each time a worker suffers such an injury. The Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health recommends that construction workers protect themselves to the greatest extent possible by following these workplace practices:

  • Whenever possible, use a cart, dolly, hoist or forklift to move materials, not your back.
  • When moving wallboard and other unwieldy or odd-shaped things, use handled carrying tools.
  • Never lift anything by yourself that weighs more than 50 pounds.
  • When lifting or carrying something, keep it as close to your body as possible.
  • Don’t jerk or twist when lifting and lowering things; turn your whole body instead and use smooth, steady movements.
  • Take rest breaks whenever you feel tired.
  • Keep floors and walkways dry and clear of anything you could trip over.

In addition, when you pick something up off the ground, don’t bend over. Kneel down on one knee, preferably while wearing a knee pad, and pull the load up on top of your other knee before standing up. Leaning on something while lifting is also a good idea whenever pos