TASB Risk Management Fund

Back Belts Are Not a Real Solution

July 01, 2020 Charles Hueter

back belt worker lifting boxes

Fund members looking to prevent employee back injuries commonly ask our risk solutions consultants whether they recommend back support belts. The short answer is no. The reason is that it generally makes more sense to fix the source of a problem rather than spend time, effort, and resources trying to reduce the impact of the problem. The same logic applies to back belts.

Addressing causes, not symptoms

If a school employee’s job exposes him or her to heavy, repetitive, or awkward lifting, the problem is not that the employee’s back cannot handle the load. The problem is the nature of the duty or the work environment. Providing back belts only addresses the symptoms.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that there is no scientific evidence that back belts prevent injuries. So, what can you do to protect your employees and control your claim costs?

Promote safe lifting techniques

Make safe lifting procedures a regular part of your meetings. Even five minutes can make a difference to someone who missed a full training session.

Promote these steps to a safe lift among your employees:

  1. Size up the load. If it’s too heavy or awkward, use a lift aid or get help.
  2. Identify the safest route, and remove hazards in advance.
  3. Establish a firm base, with your feet shoulder-width apart and one foot slightly in front of the other.
  4. Bend at your knees, not your waist.
  5. Get a good grip, using your whole hand, not just your fingers.
  6. Lift with your legs, not your back.
  7. Keep the load in your power zone: close to your body, between mid-thigh and mid-chest.
  8. Pivot to change direction; don’t twist your body.
  9. Unload carefully, again bending at your knees, not your waist.

Provide lift aids, and enforce safe use

Dollies, hand trucks, and other lift aids can make the job easier and protect employees from back injuries. They can also introduce new risks if employees do not use them properly. Enforce these safety procedures when employees use lift aids.

Load and unload safely. When loading and unloading a lift aid, follow the nine steps to a safe lift. That includes planning the job to ensure your route is free of slip, trip, and fall hazards.

Position materials properly. Put heavy objects on the bottom, and don’t pile a load above eye-level. Secure bulky, awkward, and delicate objects to the lift aid.

Push; don’t pull. Pushing instead of pulling gives you more control over the load, allows you to see in front of you, engages your leg muscles, and reduces the risk of twisting-related back injuries.

Don’t over-tilt. Hand trucks should be tilted back just enough so the weight is balanced on the wheels. The farther you tilt, the more of the load you have to support.

Strategically organize storage shelves

If you strategically organize storage shelves, you can change the nature of the job so employees lift as little as possible. Arrange shelves so the lightest items are on top and the least-used items are on the bottom. The heaviest items, as well as items employees use most often, should be stored  in the power zone. Purchase utility carts, and direct staff to transfer rather than lift boxes onto the carts so they do not have to lift or carry a heavy load.

Take advantage of the value of membership

Employee training is a core element of strong accident prevention plans. Fund members can download our 8 Steps to a Safe Lift training kit at no charge (login required). The kit includes a 10-question quiz and a sign-in sheet for your employee training records. For more information on back safety and other topics, we encourage you to contact your risk solutions consultant.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in June 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Tagged: "employee safety", Safety, "workplace safety"