Reducing the risk of employees struggling with back pain at work

Tom Pellereau’s business plan aiming to tackle the problem of back pain in the workplace by providing offices with a range of specially-designed chairs helped see him through to becoming the winner of this year’s ‘The Apprentice’. Tom’s idea of going into organisations to do ‘desk chair checks’ in order to assess the risk of people suffering from back pain, however, unleashed criticism from Lord Sugar of the lengths to which employers are expected to go to look out for the health of employees: perhaps a worrying indication of resistance to employee health and wellbeing in some quarters. Nevertheless, Lord Sugar saw the merit in offering an office chair that would prevent the problems associated with back pain in the workplace.

Back pain and other work-related upper-limb disorders can become debilitating if left untreated. People increasingly have sedentary lifestyles so it’s vital that employers prioritise the health of their staff by investing in thorough risk assessments and swift access to rehabilitation services, even though many incidences of back pain won’t necessarily have been caused by the work environment in the first place.

Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commented in 2006 as part of the HSE’s Better Backs campaign: “Surprisingly back pain will affect as many as four out of five people in Britain, and results in 4.5 million days off work a year. Employers are losing up to £335 million a year…”

Risk factors for back pain can be broadly grouped into physical risk factors and psychological risk factors. The most important physical risk factors include:

  • frequent heavy lifting;
  • twisting and bending;
  • static postures;
  • repetitive work;
  • vibration.

Psychological risk factors include:

  • distress;
  • mental stress;
  • job dissatisfaction.

It’s important to try to create a safe working environment that’s free from risk factors as far as is practicable. Working in collaboration with staff to discuss potential issues will enable employers to create a place of work where employees can function safely and productively. More guidance on employers’ responsibilities to their staff can be sought from the free Health for Work Adviceline (www.health4work.nhs.uk) on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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