The seven steps to reducing claims for back pain – Part 1

Back pain is a common problem for many people but there are ways to reduce the risks of workplace injuries.

Back pain is one of the most common conditions suffered by employees with more than 9.6 million workers in the UK reporting back pain within the past 12 months according to a survey by The Work Foundation.

Claims for back injuries are a common addition to the claims history for many types of business. The majority of employees take less than seven days off to recover from back pain but the remaining 15% are absent from their workplace for one month or more.

A European Working Conditions Survey has found that workers in the construction, agricultural, fishing and healthcare sectors have the highest job absenteeism rates due to back and musculoskeletal injuries.

We suggest five key steps to tackle Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMSDs) in your workplace in this article and look out for another two steps in Part 2.


1. Legislative Expectations on Employers

Develop an understanding of the requirements of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 and The Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992.


2. Reduce costs through managing absence

Labour Force Survey figures show that WRMSDs account for nearly half of all work-related sickness absenteeism. The highest rates of absenteeism are across the construction, healthcare, transportation and warehousing sectors. Sick pay costs can escalate with one survey finding that the average time off for a person with WRMSD was 20 days. Unmanaged absenteeism can result in the increased use of agency staff, who themselves can increase the number of claims received by some businesses.

Further detailed information on managing absence and the return to work for employees experiencing back pain can be found in our Manual Handling Toolkit Guide 4 – Back Care.


3. Reduce Manual Handling Activities

Most employees lift or carry something when at work and The Health and Safety Executive advises employers to initially focus on reducing manual handling of excessively heavy or bulky loads through considering:

  • Specific lifting equipment such as hoists and conveyors.
  • Using trolleys, trucks and wheeled stillage.
  • Breaking large loads into smaller units.
  • Labeling to warn of heavy loads.
  • Using our Manual Handling Toolkit to help reduce exposure and find out some innovative solutions to your manual handling problems


4. Develop Your Risk Assessments

There are four key factors to the risk assessment process which follows the acronym LITE

  • Load – what is to be lifted or moved?
  • Individual – consider the person undertaking the lifting or moving, have they any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries?
  • Task – what the person has to do with the load?
  • Environment – factors such as working surfaces, steps and lighting.

It is important that employers speak with their workforce to hear first hand issues and practical observations that could provide solutions to load handling issues. All risk assessments must be recorded and kept updated; they are invaluable in the event of legal action.

Make the risk assessment findings clear and highlight preventative steps in your safe systems of work. This content should be incorporated in your training programme. Don’t forget to assess those people who spend long periods working at their desks.

Further detailed information on manual handling risk assessment can be found in our Manual Handling Toolkit Guide 1.


5. Training

Training provision is a key part of creating best practice manual handling across a workplace and will have a huge impact on the reduction of work related WRMSDs and claims. It is a fact that the majority of injuries are caused through cumulative long-term bad practices in lifting and handling heavy and bulky loads, rather than through a single event of poor manual handling.

Training provision should include how to safely use any lifting or other equipment plus safe lifting by two people. Detailed training records for relevant members of the workforce must be kept to provide evidence of best practice in the event of a claim. Ideally the person who provides the training should be trained in turn to provide such instruction.

Further detailed information on manual handling training can be found in our Manual Handling Toolkit Guide 6.

We hope that these points give a reminder on how to prevent back pain occurring from work activities. If an employee is off work with back pain, please look out for Part 2 of this article to obtain some practical advice on further steps to take to manage this common problem.

For clients that have yet to experience our Manual Handling Toolkit, in addition to our guides, the toolkit provides:

  • a detailed Annual Management Review interactive pdf which assists clients with the identification of gaps in their management system.
  • an interactive pdf version of the full L23 Manual Handling risk assessment, along with
  •  a cost benefit analysis tool.

If you require log-in details to access BusinessRisc and the Manual Handling Toolkit, please contact Nicola Vogel at

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