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Hazard Analysis — Stooped postures
Workers who spread, level, and smooth concrete, mortar, or terrazzo mixtures may face hazards from stooped postures.
Prolonged bending of the back during the spreading, leveling and smoothing of concrete, mortar or terrazzo mixtures can cause injury to muscles, nerves, discs and ligaments of the low back. Non-specific low back pain is not the result of a fall or some other acute traumatic injury, so it can be difficult to identify a specific event that led to the injury. Continuous work in a 'stooped position' can lead to low back muscle strain, ligament sprain, a bulging or herniated disc, or other back problems.
Low back pain (LBP) is among the most common health complaint in working-aged populations worldwide. In the U.S., 70%-80% of adults will experience a significant episode of LBP at least once in their lives. Low back disorders are conditions associated with lifting and other forceful movements of the back. Episodes of LBP are characterized by varying levels of pain and symptoms in the low back (lumbar spine). Low back disorders can even cause leg pain at times.
- Work-related lifting and forceful movements
- Whole body vibration
- Awkward postures (bending and twisting)
- Heavy physical work
Level of Risk:
The 'stooped' position, characterized by prolonged periods of forward bending of the back, is considered one type of awkward back posture that is a risk factor for low back pain (LBP). Several scientific studies have found that stooped postures may cause low back pain compared to work that does not require stooping. Furthermore, it appears that the risk for LBP increases when more time is spent in the awkward postures or if forward bending is more pronounced. Biomechanics research shows that forces within the lumbar spine are higher when the lumbar spine is bent forward fully. In these postures, the spine is weaker and is supported by the ligaments instead of the back muscles. Research has shown that reliance on ligaments instead of muscles may increase the risk for LBP.
Stooped postures are common in construction work. In 2002, over 29% of lost work days in the construction industry were due to back injuries. Studies also show that back pain is common among construction workers, with over 50% of workers reporting low back pain in a year. In 1996, the University of Iowa surveyed 2,929 workers representing 13 different construction trades and found that 70% of workers experienced low back pain in the previous 12 months.
There has not been specific research on the development of back disorders among structural steel workers due to work in stooped postures. However, the evidence cited above on stooped posture as a risk factor, and high rates of back disorders in the construction industry, show that there is an increased risk of LBP among any structural steel workers who often works in stooped postures.
Cook TM, Rosecrance JC, Zimmermann CL (1996). The University of Iowa Construction Survey. Report E1-96. Washington, DC: The Center to Protect Workers' Rights.
Gallagher S. (2005). Physical limitations and musculoskeletal complaints associated with work in unusual or restricted postures: A literature review. Journal of Safety Research, 36, 51-61.
To assess exposure to stooped postures, determine how many hours per day the worker spends in with their back bent forward >30°, bent forward >45°, or twisted >30°. Also, visit Thomas Bernard's website for a host of practical ergonomic tools.
To assess the exposure to stooped postures, it is necessary to observe a worker drilling, grinding and sawing materials. Look for:
- Time spent with the back bent forward more than 30°
- Excessive trunk twisting more than 30°
The risk of injury increases with more time spent in a bent forward posture and a greater degree of forward bending. General guidelines include:
- Working with the back bent forward >30° for more than 2 hours a day is a moderate risk
- Working with the back bent forward >30° for more than 4 hours a day is a significant risk
- Working with the back bent forward >45° for more than 2 hours a day is a significant risk
Quantitative methods of measuring back posture are available (e.g. Lumbar Motion Monitor) but require technical expertise.Thomas Bernard's website has a host of practical ergonomics tools, including the Washington Department of Labor and Industries Checklist and the Rodgers Muscle Fatigue Assessment.
Thomas Bernard's website has a host of practical ergonomics tools, including three Microsoft Excel® based analysis tools based on the Liberty Mutual Manual Material Handling Tables.
Regulations & Standards:
Forceful and repetitive hand and wrist activities, and extreme hand/wrist postures, may cause hand, wrist, and elbow musculoskeletal disorders, including tendonitis. Numerous publications based on field studies among industrial workers in manufacturing and meatpacking have confirmed these risks. A combination of risk factors, such as forceful and repetitive hand activities, is an even greater risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders.
Many construction workers frequently use forceful, repetitive, and extreme hand/wrist postures during the normal course of their work. In 2002, 24.4% of lost work days in the construction industry were due to upper extremity injuries or illnesses. Epidemiologic studies also show that hand and wrist injury prevalence among construction workers is high. In 1996, the University of Iowa surveyed 2,929 workers representing 13 different construction trades. The investigators found that 43% of workers experienced hand and wrist pain, and 25% experienced elbow pain, in the previous 12 months.
Federal OSHA Standards are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor in 26 states. There are currently 22 states and jurisdictions operating complete State plans (covering both the private sector and state and local government employees) and 5 - Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands - which cover public employees only. If you are working in one of those states or jurisdictions you should ensure that you are complying with their requirements.
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