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The best ways to avoid injuries in the workplace

Injuries at work are common place and the implications are quite far reaching, having an impact not only on you as an individual but the business as a whole. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive dating back from 2011/12 highlighted that over 1.1 million people were affected by a work related illnesses of some description, with a further 212,000 RIDDOR reported injuries. A large number of people.

This translates into over 27 million lost working days as a result of injuries and illnesses relating to the workplace, of which 212,000 people spent 3 days or more away from work following an illness or an accident.

The total cost of absenteeism according to the 2011/12 was estimated at £13.4 billion which is more than the GDP for Albania, Mauritius or Burkina Faso. Given the significance of absenteeism from a monetary perspective it is no wonder why businesses spend time focusing on health and safety in minimising the risk to their employees.

Whilst the figures presented by the HSE are rather scary the more common injuries typically relate to less serious conditions and the majority could have been avoided i.e. removing trip hazards and clearing up spillages.

Slips and trips

Same level falls are one of the most common causes of workplace absence, whether this is a slip on a wet floor or tripping over something. Injuries from slips and trips can range in severity from a simple sprain to something more serious including broken bones therefore it is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace to ensure that trip hazards are removed.

Yellow Wet Floor Sign

The prevalence of back injuries

At some stage in our lives we will all experience back pain, it’s a fact. There are a number of different causes, whether this is through a sports injury, our posture, our working environment or even our own bed.

What is important is how you manage the injury as this can dictate the length of time you are off work and the length of your rehabilitation. If you feel pain then you should stop what you are doing and rest to avoid making it worse. Ice should be used to manage any inflammation whilst also offering some pain relieving qualities. A back support is often recommended by physiotherapists, applying compression to the affected region whilst also offering a degree of support outside of your physio sessions. Strengthening exercises are also important once the initial pain has subsided to help rebuild strength in the affected muscles.

An infographic showing the various causes of back pain and how to treat it


Manual Handling

Manual handling is one of the most common causes of lower back pain in the workplace through incorrect lifting. We are also told to lift with our legs and not our back but we don’t always follow this sound advice. In recent years a great deal of emphasis has been placed on safe lifting tips in a bid to reduce to the risk of injury to the lower back.

Firstly, you should never attempt to lift something beyond your means. Ask a friend to help. Undue strain can causes damage to the muscles in your back or even lead to a hernia. Secondly, you need to ensure that your back is straight at all times by lifting with your legs. The moment you bend your back you are creating a weakness and the pressure is focused on the lower back region as the below infographic.

Infographic showing the right and wrong way to manage manual handling

PPE (Personal Protective Clothing)

You always need to wear the right clothing for the right job. You would never go out in the snow wearing your shorts and a t-shirt and therefore you should never turn up to a build site without the necessary protective gear.

All businesses should have a list of PPE requirements for each role within an organisation. If you turn out to work or a site without the necessary PPE then you shouldn’t be allowed on site.

Some common PPE include:

Hard hat: designed to protect your head from falling debris and a prerequisite of any building site.

High visibility jacket: this is so people can see you. If you’re working in a building environment or one where there is machinery in operation such as forklift trucks then you want to be stand out to minimise the risk of a collision.

Rigger gloves: if you’re spending your day working with your hands and moving heavy objects or things like bricks then you run the risk of superficial damage to your hands. Rigger gloves protect your hands from sharp and abrasive objects.

Goggles: protecting your eyes is important in certain environments such as building sites, those involving cutting etc as the last thing you want is to get something in your eye as the damage can be catastrophic.

Steel toe cap boots: when you’re working on a building site or in a warehouse the use of steel tow cap boots is mandatory in offering protection to your feet should something be dropped on them. If you’re moving pallets around then the last thing you want to do is to drop it on your foot, but if you’re wearing boots then you’re well protected.

PPE (Personal Protective Clothing) including hard hat, gloves, goggles and high visibility jacket

Office injuries

Injuries sustained in the workplace vary from those which you might expect on a building site. Workplace injuries are typically more progressive (RSI) rather than instantaneous (slips and trips).

RSI or Repetitive Strain Injuries are something we are more likely to see in an office environment, a common condition affecting the wrist from those working at a desk. It is important to ensure your working environment is fit for purpose, your chair is at the right height, your keyboard position is optimised etc. There are also wrist guards which can sit in front of your keyboard to offer padding and elevation of the wrist and minimise the risk of RSI setting in.

These types of injuries will typically get better following rest however should you return to the same activities and do nothing to address the root cause of the problem then the condition will only return or get worse. Physiotherapy is often used to help manage your alignment and rebuild strength in the affected region. It is also important to assess your work station otherwise the work you undertake with your physiotherapist will be wasted.

Trips and falls is still something you may experience in the workplace, someone leaving a box on the floor or failing to mop up a spillage in the kitchen. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that walkways and floors are clear. We live in a society where we rush from meeting to meeting but when it comes to health and safety in the workplace being 5 minutes late for a meeting is fully justified if it removes a potential hazard for you and your colleagues.

Infographic showing the various causes of back pain in the office and how to treat it