With the rise of Internet shopping, the warehouse – and the warehouse worker – has become a more visible part of the supply chain. When bricks-and-mortar stores were the usual destination for purchasing goods, it is unlikely that consumers gave much thought to where their goods had been stored before being displayed by a retailer. Today, however, as more and more people order goods online – 87 per cent of Canadians made at least one online purchase last year, according to the Canadian Registration Internet Authority — warehouses figure prominently in the packaging and delivery of those items and get more attention.
Warehouses and Back Injuries
Along with warehouse work come back injuries. Canada’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the organization that handles workplace injury claims, reported in 2017 that the lower back was the body part that resulted in the largest amount of lost-work time, accounting for 17 per cent of all claims.
Overexertion was the leading cause of injury for materials handlers, especially those ages 20-24, with the lower back the area most affected, usually by strains and sprains. However, warehouse workers are also subject to other injuries, such as pulled muscles and pinched nerves. It’s no real surprise, considering all of the bending, lifting, twisting and quick shifts in motion that are part of the job.
For example, bending down to reach low shelves and lifting heavy items up can be injurious. Warehouse employees also need to be constantly on the lookout for fallen objects, spills and moving vehicles so they can remain safely on their feet. In addition, vibrations from forklifts used to move boxes and crates cause wear and tear on the body.
Even sitting to do paperwork to document your work or standing around waiting for your next task can be tough on your back. Most of us don’t use proper posture when we’re in our chairs or on our feet and our backs suffer for it.
Prevention is Essential
That’s the bad news. The good news is there are things you can do to prevent back injuries. Your physiotherapist can develop a course of stretching and exercise designed to strengthen your back muscles and ensure you are prepared for the repetitive motions your job requires. It’s important to use the proper technique, because even minor injuries and a poor physical approach to your tasks can lead to recurrent or chronic back pain.
There are also other keys to maintaining a healthy back. Take note of these tips and you’ll have the best chance of keeping your back in good shape:
- Stretch. Stretching loosens tight muscles and improves flexibility while preparing your body for periods of exertion, along with sitting and standing. Don’t simply stretch prior to the start of your workday; take regular breaks to do a few simple stretches. They’ll help reinvigorate your back muscles and banish those kinks that appear during the course of the day.
- Lift and Carry With Care. If you need to lift heavy loads, do so from hip level or lower. Keep the load close to your centre of gravity – at your chest, rather than down near your hips. Bend at the knees, not from the waist, to prevent injury to your back. Avoid twisting when you lift; your body isn’t a corkscrew! Move your entire body when you turn, rather than shifting only your upper body.
- Take Care of Your Tootsies. Your feet are important supports, especially in warehouse work, which requires you to stand much of the day. When your feet are uncomfortable, it places more stress on your back, so be sure you wear supportive footwear. Custom orthotics work well for people who spend most of the day upright. You don’t want to end your shift aching and in pain, so treat your toes well. You’ll feel the difference at day’s end.
- Stand Properly. When you’re on your feet, keep your head in line with your shoulders and be sure your shoulders are in line with your pelvis. Draw your buttocks and abdomen in gently. Place your feet a shoulder-width apart to distribute your weight evenly. Don’t tense up – it may actually contribute to back pain.
- Sit Correctly. If you spend part of your time doing paperwork, be as conscious of your seated posture as your upright stance. Place your feet firmly on the ground and your buttocks in the space between back in the chair and the seat. Align your knees with your hips. Make sure your chair allows you to rest your arms at elbow height. Keep your computer screen at eye level.
- Know Your Limits: Your employers don’t expect you to be Hercules, and you shouldn’t expect it of yourself. Excessive pride can lead to injury. If you need a hand in lifting something heavy, ask for it!
- Don’t Ignore Pain: Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. If you feel even a twinge, accept it as a signal that you need to make an adjustment, whether in your lifting technique, your standing posture or your job itself. Don’t hesitate to visit your physiotherapist for an assessment and some solutions.