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Back and Shoulder Injury Prevention

By Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate and Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate

Reading articles that come across our desks is one of the many ways that we as Risk Managers stay on top of what is changing in the safety and health world. Recently we reread an article by Chris Kilbourne that ran June 20, 2011, in the EHS Daily Advisor titled “Shoulder the Responsibility for Preventing Shoulder Injuries,” and some of the information was just too appropriate not to share it with you.

Just as our backs are built in a way that allows us to attempt many kinds of dangerous lifts, bends, and twists as we go about the course of our days, our shoulders enable us to attempt physical feats that are often as helpful and maybe even necessary as they are dangerous, with many of these physical efforts putting us at risk for preventable injuries.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, and it is thus the most mobile joint in the body, allowing 230 degrees of motion while enabling us to reach in nearly all directions. This agility and range, of course, represent both welcome facility and potential problems.

The first step to prevent shoulder injuries is to identify risk factors. Once those factors have been determined, the following steps may further help prevent problems.

  1. Minimize lifting – Provide mechanical aides such as carts, hand trucks, MSGIA garbage can lifts, etc. to assist with raising objects and to hold them in place.
  2. Proper and convenient storage – Store heavy and/or unwieldy material as close to the area where it will be used as practical, and ensure that the staff uses the equipment provided to lift or move it.
  3. Lighten the load – When lifting cannot be eliminated, or when items such as hot or frozen materials must be held at arm’s length, ensure that the item being lifted is as light as possible. For example, rather than having staff lift an entire case of peaches, instruct them to lift just a few at a time.
  4. Control motion – A potentially dangerous situation is a “save.” Some examples are when load shifts, or when a student is supported by a para slips and the para tries to catch the falling student. Minimizing the possibility of shifting or falling items or individuals can help prevent many of these situations, or, at least, can help mitigate their otherwise unpleasant outcomes. For example, securing items to carts before moving them over bumpy sidewalks, or using a gait belt to help stabilize a potentially unsteady student, lessens dangers and in this manner decreases the likelihood of shoulder injuries.
  5. Improve the grip – Lifting requires more force and is more difficult when there is no easy way to grip an object. (Removable suction handles can be applied to flat surfaces in some cases.)
  6. Encourage rest and stretching – Before lifting, you should always take a few minutes to stretch your arms, legs and back, as warm muscles are less likely to get injured. You can further minimize damage from lifting overhead and arm’s-length work by taking frequent short breaks (15-20 seconds).
  7. Be smart – The cardinal rule for lifting is, “The best lift you do is one you don’t do at all.”

Staff responsible for tasks that involve a lot of lifting and moving should view the MSGIA Safe Schools on-line course “Back Injury and Lifting.”  This short video demonstrates four lifting techniques (Basic Lift, Power Lift, Partial Squat Lift and Golfer’s Lift), as well as the “Pivot Technique,” which is intended to reduce injuries from twisting.  While these techniques do focus on the back, the shoulders will also benefit.

As always, we are available to assist with training and to work with/observe employees to share ideas on decreasing stress on the shoulders. Return to newsletter