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Construction workers and back injuries

New Jersey construction workers are at substantial risk of receiving a back injury and/or developing a musculoskeletal disorder. A recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training found that back injuries in the construction industry are more prevalent than in all other industries combined. Not surprisingly, older workers and those who have been on the job for five years or more are most at risk. Overall, back injuries account for 40 percent of all construction injuries and result in over $46 million in lost wages each year.

The main reasons why construction workers are so prone to back injuries and conditions is that lifting and carrying heavy loads are a normal part of their jobs. In addition, they often are required to repeat the same movements over and over again and to maintain awkward body positions for relatively long periods of time. Eventually their bodies become chronically fatigued and their recovery time for each successive injury increases. The most common work-related musculoskeletal disorders, also called WMSDs, are ligament sprains, muscle and tendon strains, inflammation of the tendons; i.e., tendonitis, and degenerative disc disease.

How to minimize the risk

The Center for Construction Research and Training recommends that construction workers use the following techniques to minimize the risk of back injuries:

  • When moving heavy loads, use a cart, forklift, dolly or hoist whenever possible.
  • Do not lift loads weighing 50 pounds or more without asking for assistance from a coworker.
  • When lifting heavy loads, use smooth and steady movements; do not twist or jerk.
  • When carrying a heavy load, keep it as close to the body as possible.
  • Make sure that all floors, walkways and sidewalks are dry; clear all such areas of debris that could cause tripping and/or falling.
  • Do not become overly fatigued; take frequent rest breaks.

Another good tip is to use handled carrying tools when moving sheetrock and other unwieldy items. Finally, do not bend when picking something up off the floor. Kneel down on one knee instead and pull the load on top of the other knee before standing up.