Back injuries account for many of the musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The major symptom of most back impairments is back pain, which can be localized or widespread radiating from a central point in the back. If ligaments and muscles are weak then discs in the lower back can become weakened.
With excessive lifting or a sudden fall, a disc can rupture. With years of back abuse, or with aging, the discs may simply wear out and a person may live with chronic pain for several years. However, back pain caused by a muscle strain or a ligament sprain will normally heal within a short time and may never cause further problems. Poor physical condition, poor posture, lack of exercise, and excessive body weight contribute to the number and severity of sprains and strains. Degeneration of the spine, due to aging, is also a major contributor to back pain.
Accommodating Employees with Back Impairment
People with back impairments may develop some of the limitations related to carrying, climbing, decreased stamina, trouble lifting, general fatigue, and fatigue sitting and walking. People seldom develop all of these limitations. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with back impairments will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations.
What are employers' responsibilities?
Back and neck pain can present in a variety of ways and cause different limitations. And, of course, the accommodations you need depend on what your job entails. Someone who does manual labor, involving heavy lifting, carrying, digging, and pulling will need different accommodations than someone with a desk job or a position that requires lots of driving, for example. Here are some accommodations that might help with particular limitations caused by back pain or neck pain:
- Mobility problems. If walking is painful, you might request accommodations such as moving your workspace to be closer to important areas you need to use, such as the restroom, meeting places, or the copy machine. You could request a parking space close to the entrance of the building where you work. If you must be mobile for your job, you could request assistive devices such as a scooter, a cart to hold supplies and belongings while you walk, and so on.
- Difficulty with reaching, lifting, pulling. If your job requires moving heavy items, you could ask for mechanical help, such as a hydraulic lift. Or, you could have your space rearranged, so heavier items are at the correct height. For example, you could have important files placed on your desk rather than in a low file drawer. For problems reaching, a variety of solutions are available to make often-used items easier to grab. Some use a lazy-susan style desk organizer to keep desktop items within reach, for example.
- Problems sitting or standing. If you must sit at a desk all day, your employer can bring in an ergonomics consultant to make your workspace more comfortable. Foot risers, ergonomic desks and chairs, changes to the placement of your computer screen and keyboard, special equipment (such as an ergonomic mouse), and other changes to your work area can be effective accommodations. If your job requires standing, your employer might provide a stool or something for you to lean on, floor mats intended to reduce fatigue, and other equipment.
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