The debate over the use and effectiveness of back belts has been met with mixed views. Back belt devices are said to be an effective tool in helping to reduce back injuries in the workplace. However, information presented here from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) does not back up this claim. NIOSH released a study in 2000, stating that back belts do not pose a significant benefit or risk when it relates to reducing back injuries in the workplace. Their research on the subject of black belts, concludes that there is little to no evidence, scientific or otherwise, that indicates that back belts assist in the reduction of back injuries.
Background Information from One Manufacturer
In researching information about back belts and their effectiveness in reducing back injuries in the workplace, Information was reviewed from one the manufacturing company, Sakol Trading & Engineering Co., Ltd,. This company is a manufacturer and distributor of a wide range of safety and personal protective equipment. Back belts are among the safety items they currently sell. The description section for back belts, states that their product provides "support, comfort, and durability to prevent lower back injuries during heavy lifting" . The manufacturer also states that back belts help individuals to maintain correct posture when conducting activities such as lifting. The manufacturer advertises the back belts as a safety device that reduces back injuries while conducting heavy lifting. However, there is no scientific evidence that supports this claim.
Background information from NIOSH
In an effort to determine the effectiveness of back belts in reducing back injuries, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, (NIOSH) conducted a two year study to evaluate the use of back belts in the workplace. The results of this study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 6, 2000). The results of the study determined that there was little to no difference when it came to workers compensation claims for workers who used back belts daily vs. employees who rarely used these devices (NIOSH, 2005). Other findings of the study indicated the following; (1) there was no significant reports of injuries or back pains when comparing employees who wore back belts everyday and employees who may have worn then a couple times per month and (2) employees engaged in strenuous work activities failed to show significant changes in reported back injuries. The NIOSH study revealed that there is no scientific evidence that confirms that the use of black belts reduces or increases back injuries in the workplace.
After reviewing the information from NIOSH, it clearly states there is little benefit from using back belts or braces in preventing injuries. As a result, I would caution employers and individuals who opt to utilize back belts as a part of their safety program to re- evaluate and seek more effective alternatives. Alternatives such as training workers on proper lifting techniques and using mechanical devices when possible. In order to determine a resolution for your specific needs, conduct an analysis of the accident investigation documents in your company to pin point areas that need improvement. Accident reports are a useful tool in determining the root cause of an accident. An informed decision can be formulated after these documents have been reviewed thoroughly. An assessment of the areas where the injuries occurred should be evaluated to determine if ergonomic designs could help to eliminate some of the risks involved in the work areas.
There are other materials and training programs that could also be used to help eliminate the amount of back injuries. More efficient and ergonomic designs could be introduced to the areas where the injuries occurred. For instance, keeping heavier loads at waist level, rather than placing them on l lower shelves. Re-train employees on the importance of utilizing proper lifting techniques such as, correct body positioning and posture (Helander, 2006, p. 195). Another possible corrective action that could be taken is to introduce mechanical devices for lifting heavy loads. This will reduce the amount of manual work needed to lift heavy and bulky loads. Using some of these methods described could prove to be beneficial in reducing the number of back injuries.
Misconceptions exist today as to the effectiveness of back belts in the prevention of back injuries. The use of back belts as a means to prevent back injuries falls short based on studies conducted by NIOSH. Evidence that back belts were effective in preventing back injuries was tested and found to be be inconclusive. Between 1996 and 1998, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted extensive research and determined that there was no scientific evidence to validate that back belts could assist in preventing workplace injuries (NIOSH, 2005). These devices add little to no benefit to the wearer in relating to injury prevention. A back belt could possibly help an individual to maintain correct posture while lifting. However, these devices can cause employees to overexert themselves in lifting heavier loads beyond their capabilities.
Helander, M. (2006). A guide to human factors and ergonomics (2nd ed). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press —Taylor and Francis Group.
NIOSH. (2000). No evidence that back belts reduce injury seen in landmark study of retail users. Retrieved from. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/beltinj.html
Sakol Trading& Engineering Co., Ltd (n.d). Back Support belt. Retrieved from.