Back injuries are a major concern in workplaces around the world, and with good reason. But the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently released a tool to calculate the overall risk index for single and multiple manual lifting tasks.
The free Lifting Equation Smartphone Mobile App is available to help workers who lift heavy objects; it provides risk estimates to help workers understand and evaluate lifting tasks to help reduce the numbers of low back injuries. The NLE Calculator (NLE Calc) is one of the first mobile apps that can compute the composite lifting index (CLI) for multiple lifting tasks. The app is based on the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (RNLE), an internationally-recognized standard for safe lifting.
Features of the app include the following:
- Calculates the composite lifting index (CLI) for multiple lifting tasks
- Uses equations approved by NIOSH ergonomists, the original creators of the NIOSH Lifting Equation (NLE)
- Promotes better musculoskeletal health
- Raises worker awareness about their job tasks
- Helps workers make informed decisions about the potential hazards of each lift to their musculoskeletal health
- Serves as job design guidelines for manual lifting tasks
- Can be used as a research tool to collect manual lifting data.
“NLE Calc is a quick and simple way for workers to assess their risk for injury before they manually lift an object,” NIOSH Director John Howard said in the recent news release about the app. “The information workers used to find in a manual is now in their back pocket and can help prevent one of the most common and costly work-related injuries.”
It is also possible that, over time, the app could become a standard in evaluating lifting procedures in general and in establishing legal guidelines to determine when lifting practices and procedures are not properly followed.
New Technology Focuses Greater Awareness on an Age-old Malady
It is anticipated that NLE Calc will help prevent one of the more hazardous – and most common – work-related groups of injuries. Back injuries due to overexertion are not only consistently reported to be the No. 1 type of workplace injury every year, but also the most expensive. And due to NLE Calc’s easy access for workers, it and similar future applications could serve as consistent reminders that back protection and proper lifting techniques are vital to today’s safe workplace.
Overall, however, back safety is a more than an app or a collection of “safe lifting” slogans. Back safety is about creating an effective ergonomics program. Safe lifting procedures and load-carrying techniques are a cornerstone in preventing painful and expensive back injuries in the workplace.
When preventing these workplace injuries, safe lifting habits and load-carrying techniques are crucial. But consistently using back safety practices are not always on workers’ minds. It comes as little surprise that easily preventable back injuries happen when workers unsafely lift or carry heavy or awkward objects. The most common job-related back injuries include:
- Strain – overused or overstretched muscles
- Sprain – torn ligaments from sudden movement
- Herniated disc – loss of the spine’s cushioning ability due to strain or advancing age.
Back Safety Programs dramatically reduce debilitating on-the-job lifting injuries. Although improper lifting, carrying, and moving techniques are the primary cause of back injuries, other prominent contributors include excess weight and generally poor physical condition. So encouraging – and even rewarding – employees who maintain healthy weight and good muscle tone, could, along with other wellness programs, be positive features of healthy worker lifestyle plans that benefit both employers and employees.
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