Back to basics

With more than half a million in Britain suffering with back
strain, employers will welcome a new survey, which recommends ways of reducing
the problem among staff in the future.  By
Eliza O’Driscoll

 

Last month’s European Week for Safety and Health (16-22
October) focused on musculoskeletal problems. With 642,000 people in Great
Britain alone believing that they are suffering from a musculoskeletal problem
affecting their back caused by work, the scale of the problem certainly
justifies the attention.

 

In Britain itself, a wide range of organisations and
companies organised special events around the week. One of the most important
was a survey of 1,500 small firms conducted jointly by the TUC, the Forum of
Private Business, and BackCare.

 

Key findings

 

The report suggests that back strain is more common in small
firms than in larger workplaces. Seven out of 10 companies employing less than
20 people reported back injuries, while only 57 per cent of the owners of firms
with between 20-99 employees did.

 

Other key findings include the fact that nearly
three-quarters of employees with back problems lift items regularly as part of
their job, more than two-thirds work in jobs that require long periods of
standing and almost two-thirds have to bend frequently.

 

Of the 22 days a year that the average small firm loses to
back strain, 14 days are taken by male workers, and only eight by female
workers. Employees with back problems are more likely to consult a
complementary therapist than their GP the survey found, with 70 per cent
visiting the former as compared with just 60 per cent visiting the latter.

 

Fewer cases

 

The report found that more than two-thirds of the small
businesses surveyed had carried out risk assessments for the jobs than they
suspect cause back strain and 40 per cent had made changes to the way jobs were
carried out as a result. Not only was there no increase in back strain in these
companies, in over two-fifths of them fewer cases were reported.

 

The report contains a series of recommendations (see box) to
tackle the problem of musculoskeletal disorders among the employees of small
businesses.

 

– Back Strain in UK Small Businesses is available priced
£10 from the Forum of Private Business

 

Helping small firms to take the strain

 

1. Schools, business organisations and trade unions need to
work harder to educate small business owners and employees on what causes back
strain and how it can be prevented

 

2. Incentives to action such as tax breaks or reduced
employers National

 

Insurance Contributions should be available to employers who
have undertaken back strain risk assessments

 

3. Small businesses should pay less tax on all equipment
that reduces back pain through tax deductible provision and VAT zero-rating

 

4. People working for small firms should be given greater
access to physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths, GPs should be more
willing to refer back pain sufferers to these specialists, and the cost of such
treatment should be available on the NHS. The cost to employers of any
treatment for back strain should be tax deductible.

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